By Pete Vonder Haar | January 22, 2006

If you’ve been experiencing those nagging feelings of guilt every time you plop down a fiver for a latte at your local hyper-global mega-coffee shop, “Black Gold” will only reinforce them. Filmmakers Nick and Marc Francis take us to Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, to introduce us to the plight of the farmers who grow the commodity that is traded in quantities second only to oil. More than that, they also show us the tremendous disparities between the profits raked in by global coffee distributors and the prices paid to the growers.

Coffee prices are currently at 30-year lows, following the collapse of international trade agreements, leading to warehouses stacked full of beans waiting for a better market. One such warehouse, in Addis Ababa, is run by one Tadesse Meskela. Meskela is the manager of a group of co-operatives representing over 70,000 Ethiopian coffee farmers, and the Curtis brothers spend most of the film following him around – to both Europe and the United States – as he carries on his Herculean quest to secure buyers who are willing to pay a little more for his beans.

The film’s effectiveness is bolstered by juxtaposed scenes of fat and happy Americans and Europeans slurping up frozen chai lattes and clucking about how big Starbuck’s is getting with scenes of children going into “therapeutic feeding centers” in the region where Starbuck’s gets its coffee because they can’t afford to by corn.

Ethiopia isn’t alone in its plight, of course. All of Africa, as well as many Latin American countries, were left holding an empty bag after the most recent round of WTO talks. It’s that much more depressing when you realize that a mere 1% increase in Africa’s percentage of world trade (which would effective double their existing percentage) would quintuple the amount of money the continent presently receives in foreign aid.

And if that doesn’t make you feel guilty, at the very least you should feel embarrassed that you’re actually shelling out $5 and more for a cup of freaking coffee.

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