Securing the production of coffee

The sustainability dialogue has shifted from securing a living wage to ensuring a prosperous livelihood for coffee producers in the past year. Although several sectors of the industry have adopted this new mindset, there is still a long road ahead to make this change a reality.

Certifications are often seen as a tool to help bring more income back to the coffee farmer, however, the process can be cost prohibitive. In the past year, I was able to delve into several conversations about the challenges that continue to plague the industry, some of which were heightened since the pandemic. There is a clear consensus of the necessity for coffee to become economically sustainable.

A recent study conducted by the Columbia Center on sustainable investment, focused on ten coffee-producing countries that accounted for 89% of coffee exports. Their report discovered that only Brazil and Vietnam paid their coffee producers above the poverty line, with the average Brazilian farmer receiving an income above the living wage. However, coffee farmers from the remaining eight countries received an income either at or below the poverty line.

On 22 July 2021, Fairtrade Canada released a Living Income Reference Prices report for Colombian coffee for conventional coffee at 9,900 Colombian pesos (USD $2.75 per kilo) and 11,000 pesos ($3.06) for organic. Increasing consumer awareness of the challenges within the coffee industry, including the gap between what the producer is making and the cost of coffee, is essential. However, the solution is not as simple as paying more for your daily cup.

There is no question that producers need to be paid more, however, it still needs to be affordable to the end consumer. Consumers are tapped out, especially over the past eighteen months, where the pandemic has resulted in skyrocketing unemployment rates as well as rising F&B/consumables, gas and utility costs. If the price of coffee is placed too high, it could become a luxury, a product consumed once or twice or week, instead of daily. The lower demand has already been noticed with certified products, which, are often sold at higher prices than conventional coffee. However, this price increase, unfortunately, makes it challenging for every consumer to purchase these products.

There needs to be another way to secure a higher price of coffee without placing all the onus on the end consumer. This includes looking at the entire supply chain to determine the changes that need to occur, including a shift in price and premiums, changes in business practice, and producer support at the company level.

Securing a living wage, or ideally, a prosperous wage for coffee producers requires all sectors of the industry to work together to discover and implement the necessary actions to make producing coffee a viable option.

  • Long-time T&CTJ contributor, Anne-Marie Hardie is a freelance writer, professor and speaker based in Barrie, Ontario. She may be reached at: [email protected].

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