You can’t live without coffee? But can coffee farmers survive on coffee?

What is your cup of coffee really worth? Coffee at the start of the day, coffee as a break, coffee on a date. In Belgium, 3 million cups of coffee are consumed every day. For many of us, it is the highlight of the working day, whether we’re working from home or not. Coffee sales increased during the lockdown. Instead of a cup at the office, we all religiously drank coffee at home and this was reflected in the sales. Not only that, people also consciously chose fair trade coffee which made the sales of Fairtrade coffee grow rapidly. So, coffee is central to our working day, but what do you really know about the cup you drink every day?

The industry has had several problems for some time that will not improve in the coming years. The earnings of the farmers are too low to live off. Farmers in the South can hardly cover their costs. The situation on many coffee plantations is harrowing: forced labour, living between trash, plantations and workers being exploited. The working and living conditions of the farmers and workers are degrading. A second major problem affecting the sector is climate change. Long droughts are a big problem, but too much rain can also lead to a crop failure. Farmers are often ignorant or simply do not have the means to invest in order to tackle these problems or reduce the impact.

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Can farmers live off their coffee? The answer to this question will not surprise you, but the numbers are enormous: 25 million coffee farmers cannot live from faring alone. An average cup of coffee costs EUR 2.75 and only one cent of this amount is received by the farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The market is volatile and the farmers are too dependent to make their voices heard. But where does the rest of that money go? Who is getting rich from all our coffee drinking?

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The production chain, from the bean to your shopping bag, is long and many actors are involved in this process. Where exactly, then, does it go wrong? The price gets stuck between the import and the catering industry. Make no mistake, coffee prices do go up, but the farmer often does not notice that. The producer in the South is only the beginning of a long production route that our coffee travels, he/she is crucial (because without them there is no product to process), but easily replaceable. For every farmer who refuses to sell his/her coffee at too low a price, there are plenty of others willing to do so. A next crucial step are the coffee roasters, they are the most powerful actors in the chain (think of Nestlé, Kraft, Sara Lee & Starbucks). They dominate international trade due to oversupply and market concentration. These actors are important due to the growing demand for fresh, tasty, aromatic coffee. Coffee roasters are often in direct contact with supermarkets, shops and the catering industry.

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The problems within the sector are numerous and the solutions to them are hard to find. We are faced with a succession of production problems. What can you do?

That's where Fairtrade comes in. For years, the aim has been to work towards a fairer market and to pay farmers better as to allow for a more dignified existence. Fairtrade coffee focuses on a fair market and on the farmers. While organic coffee advocates ecological production, animal-friendly husbandry and high-quality processing. Both are important steps in counteracting the sector's biggest problems. So both labels on your pack of coffee give your product a double guarantee. Both human and ecological.

So, your next cup of coffee will be a delicious fair trade coffee, right?

Jolien Van Nieuwenhuyze

As a student in political sciences, Jolien is very much interested in the world around her. Fair trade, equality and decent living are the subjects she likes to explore and lose herself in. With her work, she hopes to have a small impact in the grand scheme of things.

Fotos Oxfam Wereldwinkels

Image 2 & 3 were made in Norandino, a Bio & Fairtrade coffee partner of Oxfam in Peru.

Read more here

Foto 4 Sarah Van Looy

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