Hi Joachim, the short answer is yes, specialty coffee farmers can also grow Fairtrade coffee. Still, it isn't the case for all specialty coffee producers.
I would say that fair trade and specialty coffee are some of the most complex concepts in modern coffee. That's why this question is so interesting!
Fair trade refers to a set of principles looking to improve the price structure of commoditized products like coffee. The market seems to reproduce unfair and unsustainable pricing deeply rooted in the coffee industry. On the other hand, specialty coffee refers to high-quality coffee with specific attributes that consumers have in high regards, like aromatic profiles, innovative processing methods, etc. Traditionally, specialty coffee refers to a minimum quality score. However, joint research from experts has been discussing and expanding specialty coffee definition.
Now, as these are separate concepts, let me dig deeper into each one.
First, let's talk about fair trade. As you may know, coffee production has a dark past. Colonialism and mercantilism left an indelible footprint on the coffee business culture, and many coffee trade practices are still extractive, unfair, and unsustainable.
Labour, for instance, depended on slavery and servitude, as colonial rulers owned most coffee farms. Still, most of the benefits from coffee went to Imperial metropolises for centuries. In the last few decades of the 20th century, we started to care for these issues.
I would say that fair trade is an old concept since many people have felt overwhelmed by the difference in benefits across the value chain in barely any sector. Many producers couldn't even taste their products for centuries in commoditized industries like coffee. For instance, this was the case of Indonesian producers under Dutch rule, and such prohibition led to Indonesian coffee leaf-infused drinks.
That said, although we might track these practices more than 300 years ago, it's hard to imagine that a few generations would easily overcome the cultural burden that these traditions created. Most coffee producers live in independent and sovereign countries. However, almost all of them were at some point under colonial rule.
We could hardly solve these issues overnight, and many criticize the fair trade movement for its limited impact on coffee producers. Arguably, fair trade certifications impose quality and sustainability standards that are hard to comply with and exclude many coffee producers.
Now, referring to specialty coffee farmers, we know that quality certifications are hard to get and require some degree of cooperation between coffee producers, green coffee buyers, and even roasters. In this regard, some specialty coffee farmers are growing fair trade coffee, but they are completely different certifications. One refers to a set of requirements that fair trade certifications demand from producers to include into a premium market, regardless of quality scores. The second, specialty coffee, addresses quality primarily, and it usually means that coffee will have a better taste, will be free of defects, and for that reason, will cost more.