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What do we stand for at
Direct Access?

What do we stand for at <br>Direct Access?

by Matt Bishop

A year ago

Integrity and transparency, first and foremost.

Additionally, we firmly believe in fair labor practices and ecological farming. There is one slight problem of course… we are realists. We know we cannot have it all—at least not all the time, and at least not yet. We are brave enough to take on the truth, and the truth being that a farmer who is barely surviving will likely be unwilling to spend additional money to cultivate in a manner that enriches the environment nor have enough money to pay his or her workers a living wage.

There are a lot of small coffee farmers around the world who are barely making ends meet. If smallholder/hand cultivated farms disappear, industrial/machine picked operations in a few large producing countries will fill the void. That is a lost opportunity. We hold that smallholder farmers are capable of producing higher quality coffee and are more willing and adaptable to farm ecologically. We support the economic participation of many participants within small farming communities versus the economic advantage and concentration of wealth among only a few with large industrial farms and historically wealthy coffee plantations.

Smallholder coffee farms have been disenfranchised for some time by the legacy supply chain and are at risk, but there is opportunity to change how profits are distributed in the coffee supply chain and make these farms profitable and long-term sustainability. Doing so, however, requires a willingness to have a much deeper understanding of how coffee is typically traded between a complex and varying system of middlemen.

While we are encouraged by the work being done by many certification programs within the coffee trade, the current supply chain issues and their impact on smallholder growers are far too complex to be solved by a singular or even multiple certification programs whose impact is so often communicated to consumers with no more than a small, simplistic stamp on a bag. This simplistic marketing, and the consumer’s acknowledgement that the coffee is “certified” is often as deep of an understanding as the consumer gains. True and sweeping impact requires a willingness on the part of all concerned to jump in with both feet, ask tough questions, and face tough answers. We must face the industry’s issues with extreme integrity, accepting their full nuance, in order to drive the depth of understanding that can create true and lasting impact.

We believe that through economic betterment, we will open the door to improved labor practices and further ecological sustainability at the small farm level. But how can a consumer be sure we are meeting these economic development goals? We aim to provide this assurance through an extreme commitment to financial transparency, publishing all available data regarding the prices being paid by our participating farmers for services that aid in processing their coffee, moving their coffee across the world, and bringing it to the end market. And ultimately, we intend to show how our farmers are able to receive a long-term sustainable income under the Direct Access model.

We understand that long-term financial sustainability is only one of our goals. Ultimately, we want to offer an unprecedented level of access for consumers to provide their own oversight of farmers’ labor and environmental practices through direct engagement with those growers. When you go to the local farmers market, do you ask the farmers to see their certifications and third party auditor evidence, or do you engage them directly, as people, and trust their answers in good faith? We favor the latter and the inherent respect that approach affords to the farmer—we are happy to extend the same level of respect to small coffee farmers.

We live in an era of free translation apps, where many farmers in remote areas can be communicated with directly via near ubiquitous social media and communications apps, where farmers can tout their own environmental and labor practices, directly from the farm. This approach of essentially "crowdsourcing" our oversight has more integrity than trusting a certification process where the actual involvement of auditors on remote farms is limited. We are purposeful in striving to hold farmers directly accountable to you, the end-consumer. That can’t be implemented overnight, and this effort is in its infancy. Ultimately, however, we think this will be a fresh and welcomed counterpoint to certification programs and an approach that better leverages our current age of connectivity.

Very few can have it all at present: high-quality, smallholder grown coffee that provides long-term sustainable income for its farmers and surrounding community in a system that is highly transparent towards its finances, labor practices, and ecological impact. That is a tall order. Seeing room for vast improvement and iterative progress under a scalable model, we are working hard to achieve all that with a system that better connects farmers and consumers under a new supply chain model.


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