New Internationalist

Black Gold

Issue 390

Black Gold is a quiet film. There’s no voiceover narration telling the viewer how to react as the scenes unfold. It simply shows us how the coffee trade works through the eyes of Ethiopian farmers and, in particular, one man, Tadesse Meskela, who is determined to get a fair price for the coffee beans produced by the 70,000 farmers he represents. The film shifts back and forth between the lush but poverty-stricken hills of southern Ethiopia to coffee shops and businesses in the US, Italy and Britain. It is this alternating process that creates Black Gold’s most powerful effects. Cringe-worthy scenes from the ‘World Barista Championships’ – in which preening twentysomethings compete for the title of ‘best cappuccino maker’ – are immediately followed by a visit to an Ethiopian factory where women sort beans by hand. It’s not that these women shouldn’t have to do this job – but they should be paid more than 50 cents a day. A fair price is all that Tadesse Meskela and his farmers are asking for from potential buyers in the rich world. If he succeeds it will help to keep his region of Ethiopia free from dependency on food aid – which is more than can be said for the area from which Starbucks sources its ‘Fair Trade’ coffee.

Erin Gill

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