The coffee market is in the hands of industries who fix the prices and who control and regulate exchanges with producer countries in the southern hemisphere.
Since 1880, coffee has been listed on two principal stock markets: London for robustas and New York for arabicas.
Looking at the evolution of prices, one sees that coffee prices are characterised by sudden, spectacular fluctuations, going as far as tripling in the space of just a few days. The freezing weather in Brazil in 1994 and the passage of El Nino in 1997, for example, caused the price to shoot up above 200 cents USD / pound for Arabica.
However, the general trend for several years now has been to keep prices low. This configuration is partly explained by excess production on a worldwide scale.
The system implemented by the Fair Trade system offers an alternative to this dangerous situation, which constantly threatens small growers with the likelihood that one day, they will be forced to sell their coffee for less than the cost of production and hence run up debts.