I went to see an interesting movie today called Black Gold, about the production of coffee in Ethiopia and how it relates to global trade and cooperatives. What struck me the most is how coffee is the second most traded commodity worldwide, and yet Ethiopia, a major producer of coffee, is one of the poorest countries in the world. And this appears to be a trend: the more naturally rich a country is, the poorer they are in terms of GDP. Congo is another example of this.
There are around 2 billion cups of coffee drunk each day, and yet the price of coffee has fallen drastically in the past few decades. This is because corporations have taken over the market and so basically coffee farmers are forced to accept the “market price” for their coffee, which is almost nothing. Many can’t even survive anymore, despite the fact that more coffee is being drunk and coffee is such a major commodity.
Then there was a part of the movie about the World Trade Organizations, probably up there with the IMF and World Bank when it comes to useless organizations that are killing millions of people. They discussed how the IMF and World Bank has forced African governments to STOP subsidies to their farmers, while the EU and US continues to massively subsidize their own farmers. But since all the negotiations at the WTO happen behind closed doors among the powerful countries, Africa is usually left out and continues to lose more and more economic and political clout by the year. One woman described the WTO as a “power-based association.”
The movie also stated that Africa’s trade has now fallen to 1% of global trade. How the hell is that even possible when so much of Africa’s resources are being shipped to other countries? From diamonds to cobalt to coffee, it is virtually impossible that the trade amounts to 1%. Does that mean that most of what leaves Africa is stolen, not traded?
On the whole, the movie was yet another description of the current capitalist neo-colonial system we are living in. It did make me realize, though, that one solution is the cooperative. I have been following someone on Twitter (@thebrinos) who tweets a lot about cooperatives and their benefits, and this movie also tried to portray them as extremely useful as they cut out the middle-men who take a lot of money for their “services.” Could cooperatives be one way out of this mess, since it doesn’t look like capitalism will crumble anytime soon?