Ethiopia: "Black Gold" illustrates coffee farmers' plight

Documentary tells the story through Oxfam's Ethiopian partner.

Oxfam America would like to invite supporters to watch the soon-to-be-released documentary, "Black Gold," a look into the multi-billion dollar coffee industry and the poor farmers who cultivate the gourmet beans, but see little of the profits. "Black Gold" opens in New York City, Seattle, and other cities October 6.

The film follows Tadesse Meskela, manager of Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, as he travels the world looking for a better price for his farmers' coffee. Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, an Oxfam America partner organization since 2002, represents 70,000 farmers, who despite back-breaking work, watch their profits rise and fall depending on the fluctuating price on the world market.

"There is no coffee which is as quality as this coffee, but we are getting a low price," Meskela says in the film. "Our main aim is to bring more money into the coffee growers' pocket."

Telling the Coffee Farmer's Story

With great candor, Meskela describes the situation the farmers face. When the price of coffee hit a 30-year low in 2001, Ethiopian farmers struggled to feed their children and send them to school. Some quit farming. Others gave up farming coffee to grow the more profitable chat, a local narcotic banned in the US and Europe. Malnourished and forced to travel long distances to accept foreign aid, some farmers saw no alternative but to bring their families to government feeding centers.

The price of coffee has risen over the last few years, but little has changed in these communities. In Ethiopia, country that depends on coffee for about 40 percent of its export revenue, farmers make as little as three cents for every cup of coffee sold in the United States or Europe. Meanwhile, multinational coffee corporations collectively rake in as much as $80 billion each year, according to the film.

British film makers Nick and Marc Frances use Meskela and the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union tell a larger story about poor countries that struggle to benefit from global trade. The film highlights the many corners of the coffee industry, from the Ethiopian growers who cultivate the best coffee in the world, to the NY traders who set the price, to the Seattle baristas at Starbucks who try to meet the high demand.

Oxfam America's Coffee Work

Oxfam America, which is working with "Black Gold's" promoters and Meskela to publicize the film, seeks to create a world where coffee farmers are fairly rewarded for their hard work. By connecting our work with coffee producers in Ethiopia and Central America with consumer education, political advocacy, and corporate engagement, Oxfam is able to develop creative strategies that address the complex challenges facing small-scale coffee farmers around the world.

"Oxfam seeks to correct the imbalances of power at the root of unfair trade. This film highlights the vulnerability of coffee farmers and the disconnect that exists between poor farmers and huge profits," said Seth Petchers, Oxfam America's coffee program manager.

"'Black Gold' illustrates the gravity of the challenges facing coffee farmers - but those challenges are not insurmountable if people get involved. We're hoping people watch the film and get inspired to take action."

How to Get Involved

Help small-scale coffee farmers like those featured in the film.

Get a group together to watch "Black Gold." Go to for an up-to-date schedule of screenings.

Volunteer at "Black Gold" screenings. For more information, and to sign up, go to

Join Oxfam's Check Out Fair Trade initiative. Go to to learn how you can get your local supermarket to stock, market, and display more Fair Trade products.

Read more about Oxfam's coffee work. Learn more about fair trade and the crisis facing coffee cooperatives at

Support Oxfam's coffee work. Help partner organizations such as the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union by making a donation to Oxfam America.

Get updates on this and other Oxfam campaigns. Join our email list.

Buy the "Black Gold" DVD. California Newsreel will release the DVD later this year.