Source: Mike Kenneally
From the past 20 years to now, the production of coffee has increased tremendously, especially in South and Central America, Asia and Africa. Countries like China or UK, that have always prefered to drink tea, are changing their habits towards tasty coffee. But there are some factors that have made prices fluctuate really quickly, such as constant droughts and rainfalls, consequences of global warming.
Reasons for unstable prices
Poor coffee seasons, coupled with constant demand from all over the world, have made prices increase quite a lot. For instances, Brazil, one of the biggest producers of robusta (the bean used to make instant coffee), has been hit by a really hard drought lately, which obviously affected its harvest.
On the contrary, Indonesia and Vietnam, two of the largest producers, have been having too much rain, which also destroy harvests of robusta.
As we can see, environmental issues are the ones that interfere the most with coffee price.
If you’re interested in learning more about why coffee prices tend to fluctuate, Economics Help can unravel your doubts.
Local coffee producers
Although prices are increasing year by year, coffee is not something expensive nowadays, taking into account the high cost it actually has in the countries where it’s originated. We have to understand this situation as a cycle: if we actually pay a “small amount” of money for coffee and bad weather destroys harvests all over the world, what would be left for the humble people who work everyday in this sector?
Consequences of low prices and unfortunate weather
These two factors are affecting the coffee situation at the point where the prices fluctuation has created “a crisis that destroyed the livelihoods of 25 million coffee producers in places like Vietnam or Ethiopia”- says Oxfam.
In periods where the price is lower, the cost for small-scale producers is really big, since this is their major source of income.
Working conditions and compensation
Coffee farmers in developing countries only receive a 10% of the retail price. The intense competition and the consequences of a bad weather forces them to cut down on their margins. Besides, farmers are not always treated well, working in poor conditions, and all that simply to get a small fraction of the selling price.
A spurt of hope?
These unfair situations have awaken some organizations’ interest, that are slowly starting to do something about it. Facilities are being modernised, production tools improved and many communities receive some sort of training on how to conduct their own business properly.
Additionally, some cooperatives are focusing on building local institutional capacities and implementing microfinance projects that support local economy, so young people don’t have to migrate to bigger cities searching for work.
If you want to read the full unequal social exchange produced by coffee, The Conversation will make what the deal is about.
Source: Katia Austin
Because of many coffee growers who have replaced their traditional farming methods with sun cultivation, over 2.5 million acres of forest have been cleared in Central America to make way for coffee farming. Due to the great amount of fertilizer (among other harming practises) that is used to make plantations grow, the biodiversity of these countries is being threatened - plants that support a wide range of insects and animals are slowly being eliminated.
Discharges from coffee processing plants are one of the biggest causes of water pollution in areas where this product is grown. Organic pollutants end up in rivers and waterways, making aquatic plants and wildlife lack a lot of their essential oxygen.
The process of separating the coffee beans from the husk they come in creates huge volumes of waste in the form of a pulp (millions of tons of it is generated per year) which are dumped into nearby streams, which often die out because of the surcharge they suffer from.
The soil quality has also been affected by techniques like sun cultivation: the lack of shade causes higher rates of erosion in plantations where vegetation is scarce.
To get more info about the environmental impact that coffee has nowadays, Huffington Post gives us some directions to understand the real problem.
What can we do?
Source: Quincy Alivio
Although it may seem like bad news only for any of us coffee drinker sensitive to or consumption choices , rest assured there some good projects in this area to help the production of coffee being more sustainable! So is there anything we can do? Yes! Commit ourselves to buying certified coffee brands. We should buy the ones that are supported by the Fair Trade Label, that guarantees a fair compensation to the producers despite any prices fluctuation.
If you want to know more information about the impact of fairtrade coffee, this video will help you out.
Choosing the right coffee to buy
Big brands usually are the least ethical, at least as a general rule. Their coffee is likely to be leaving a considerable amount of devastation behind. If we say “NO” to uncertified brands, they will eventually have to change and adapt their productions methods. If we don’t see any certified brand at our supermarket, we should ask them to bring some. It won't require more than a couple of similar request for the shop owner to feel the gain of getting some.
The Good Trade provides you an appreciable list of sustainable coffee brands that are worth a try if you’re interested in taking some action.
Projects that are worth taking a look at
This association helps increase the quality and quantity of coffee production in Ethiopia, helping the farmers to gain certifications that prove their coffee grow in a free chemical environment inside a well-protected forest.
Some based-gender programmes are being carried to improve the life of many women that live and work in a coffee producer region in Colombia, offering them personal, social and economic opportunities.
We are really proud to have Aso Mujer as one of our partners. If you want to live a colombian experience in the mountains, with a delicious cup of coffee gazing at a breathtaking landscape, check out the activity Coffee at the Mountains, you will love it!
This organisation works with coffee producers and their families in Guatemala to empower them by choosing their own future, based in certain priorities and cultural values. Farmer trainers teach these families how to improve the coffee production to overcome poverty.