Black Gold Problem: Be Part of the Solution

This movie documents a simply, unfair story – 2 billion cups of coffee are drunk every day in the £40 billion world coffee market, yet only a handful of powerful corporations including Kraft, Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, Sara Lee, and Starbucks continue to get rich in a coffee trade that exploits coffee growers who earn less than £1 per day.

British filmmakers Marc and Nic Francis follow the fate of a group of coffee growers from the Sidamo area of Ethiopia along with their co-operative, lead by Tadesse Meskela who campaigns for fair prices on their behalf.

The documentary shows how far apart the winners and losers are in the coffee trade, with the filmmakers contrasting images of consumers nonchalantly sipping lattes in cozy cafes vs. women picking coffee beans for endless hours for a salary smaller than the price of a single latte, then their children get turned away for malnutrition treatment because they’re not yet sick enough.

The filmmakers also point to signs of emerging solutions. The fair-trade movement led by Fairtrade Labelling Organisations has created a system for coffee farmers to earn fair prices, which has achieved strong support among consumers in the UK and Europe – hopefully this film will help awaken a market of support in the U.S.

Fairtrade has begun to help some farmers financially, but for millions, the hope for a better future is still a distant one – as evidenced in the film where the first Fairtrade payment earned by the cooperative wasn’t enough to build the school the farmers so wanted for their children.

As the film was not produced with the pace or narrative intensity of a Michael Moore film or of the acclaimed An Inconvenient Truth, it leaves the audience with ample opportunity to reflect in their own thoughts and emotions about potential answers to the Black Gold problem. In addition to putting our ethical purchasing power to work by drinking more fair trade coffee from fair trade organisations such as Cafédirect, Traidcraft, and Equal Exchange, how about helping coffee farmers constitute, finance and manage super-cooperatives? Then they’ll have the power to stand-up to the multinationals to accelerate and extend their rise from poverty.

The farmers of the developing world deserve more than just a better future.

78 minutes, UK/USA (2006)

» Watch the trailer for Black Gold on YouTube

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