In remarkably few decades Fair Trade went, from a simple and hopeful idea, to a 2.3 billion dollar business! This unprecedented success owes much to the wit, the persistence and devotion of a handful of activists such as Dean Cycon. But unlike many of his fellow travelers who concentrate on improving the palate and the social conscience of western consumers, Dean sees Fair Trade as a vehicle for much more profound changes in the lives of the coffee producers. Accordingly, he concentrates his efforts in reaching out to the cooperatives from which he buys his organic beans and shares his profits directly with them in the form of infrastructure investments such as water wells and local schools and, far more than that, with his tireless concern and the effervescent warmth of his presence.
In "Javatrekker" Dean collects some of the many charming memoirs of his incessant globetrotting through the coffee lands in a style which both emulates and evokes the very story telling traditions which inhabit these regions. He calls these accounts, quite accurately, "dispatches" since most of the local situations he describes are evolving from dire to hopeful and will obviously require updates beyond the ones he provides. Through Dean's recollections we are introduced to a number of colorful characters, literally sages and saints, idols and heroes, traders and tricksters from all corners of the world but, more than anything, these are people engaged in bettering their lives and those of their kin peacefully and joyfully. Their stories range from the humorous to the tragic, but Dean always manages to describe their struggles with the touching note that conveys to the alert reader that these are hardly any different in their dreams and aspiration from those one meets on our everyday. It is this recurring slice-of-humanity which makes Javatrekker a far better read than most travel or development literature. More than a hybrid of these two popular genres this book is really a "field manual" for a new, global campaign whose time is surely here: one that firmly rejects charity and "aid" as the currency of exploitation in favor of peaceful productive engagement and the local community empowerment which the example of fair trade has proven possible. What propels Dean's trekking is also, quite clearly, the quest for the next stage, beyond fair trade, in this long but ever more necessary bridge between worlds.
Western fair trade supporters are found to point out that coffee, as a commodity, is second only to oil in total annual volume of trade. They stop short, however, from speculating on what the world would be like if coffee producers had a measure control over their global market even remotely comparable to that which the Oil Cartel exerts over the price of the barrel! Perhaps Fair Trade is still in its early stages and is likely to become the new platform for a globalizing economy concerned with product quality as well as sustainability and climate change. Or maybe it is time to think of a more ambitious formula to fight worldwide inequality in trading justice that may bring about more immediately results. In either case Javatrekker will remain a vital and historical testimonial beyond the delightfully entertaining wild ride that it surely is. GET IT! READ IT! (You will thank me later...)