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Economy: Coffee


Walker Art Center



Institution Walker Art Center
The coffee so often consumed in northern countries is the fruit of the labor of peasants in the tropics. Often these people receive too little pay and have few legal rights. They may be exposed to highly toxic pesticides that have been banned elsewhere. In addition, thousands of hectares of forest are cleared to make way for giant coffee plantations. This monoculture destroys habitats, endangering the survival of many animal and plant species.

No one knows the exact origin of coffee. It is said that it was first cultivated in the province of Kaffa (hence its name) in Ethiopia, in the middle of the 12th century. Traders then brought the coffee bean to the Middle East, where it was roasted and brewed for the first time. In the 17th century, the drink took Europe by storm, and Europeans pressured their colonies in the south to produce large quantities of coffee.

European colonial powers structured the economies of their colonies around the export of raw resources. Goods such as tropical fruits, rice, coffee, minerals, and petroleum were sent directly to northern centers, which dictated the laws of the market. Today, even though former colonies have acquired political independence, the structure of their economies remains inextricably linked to the needs and whims of northern countries. This dependence on the international trade of raw resources is a direct outcome of their colonial past.

Coffee prices are determined at the New York and London stock exchanges, even though coffee grows exclusively in warm countries. Speculation often causes huge price fluctuations.

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Type: Commentary, online content
Source: Economy: Coffee, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.
Rights: Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center
Added to Site: March 1, 2009