Thoughts On Coffee:
farmer, Kalimantan, Indonesia
(© Eric Boa)
is a virtuous crop
- It provides employment
and cash to rural areas
- It protects against
- Aids good watershed
- It is a carbon
sink, especially with shade trees
- Shade coffee can
provide a good habitat for many migrant birds and other animals, many
of them rare or endangered
- Coffee yields something
that is not perishable so it can be stored and hence does not wholly
depend on good transport infrastructure
In our view, smallholder
coffee is especially important since it is grown mostly under shade trees
and either inter-cropped or grown in a semi-natural agro-forestry setting.
Hence it is a particularly rich and stable habitat for many species, including
migratory birds. We think these small farmers are greatly under-appreciated
and under-rewarded for the stewardship of their land.
of sustainable development
growing district, Guatemala (© Eric Boa)
believes that coffee can be an important engine of sustainable development
to lift farmers above subsistence agriculture and hence contribute to
a sustainable life-style. However, coffee farmers are currently facing
many difficulties. These include pests and diseases, and quality problems
due to poor processing, poor infrastructure and poor commercialization.
All of which lead to higher costs and/or low prices. We believe that their
problems will intensify with technological advances such as mechanization,
and the possible introduction of GM coffees in the future.
The current crisis in coffee
the coffee, Guatemala (© Eric Boa)
The present coffee
crisis, categorised by historically low prices, is having a major effect
on coffee farming communities around the world. Some farmers are abandoning
their plots, or simply not managing their coffee well, thus reducing the
quality of their harvest:
prices below 100 cents for a long period, I very much fear for the quality.
I also fear for the socio-economic future of a number of coffee producing
countries if we stay at this level. It is to the advantage of nobody."
[Source: Patrick Installé, n.v. Efico s.a. (Antwerp coffee trading
quoted in Coffee & Cocoa International, Vol 27, No 4, p.13]
are just a few recent examples of the disruption resulting from
historically low coffee prices:
"Authorities from the police and army confirmed that in the last
three years, as the coffee sector crisis deepened, the Departments
of Caldas, Tolima, Risaralda, Quindío and N Valle suffered a severe
fracturing of public order. Robberies rose by 90% in the last 3
years, kidnappings shot up and the insecurity on the highways became
generalised." [Source: El Tiempo, December 2001]
"The coffee growers' protest rally taken out in the main streets
of Chikmagalur turned violent…The protesters who gathered in large
numbers started pelting stones and picketed government offices.
The police resorted to a mild lathi-charge to disperse the protesters.
Later, the protesters submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner
to solve various problems faced by them due to fall in coffee prices.
More than 10,000 coffee growers from Chikmagalur, Hassan and Kodagu
participated in the rally. [Source: The Times of India, December
"Over the last three years, Ethiopia has lost almost US$167m in
export revenues as a result of the slump in coffee prices - an amount
equivalent to almost half the country's annual export earnings.
The impact of depressed prices has been considerable at the household
level. Many coffee farmers have been forced to sell assets such
as cattle, and to cut down on essential expenses, including food.
Coffee producers also suffered because they lacked accurate and
timely information on price trends on the international market,
which sometimes led them to hoard large stocks of coffee. [Source:
UN Integrated Regional Information Network, Nairobi, 23 January
We believe that for
many reasons it is vitally important that smallholder farmer coffee production
remains profitable yet environmentally sustainable and our fundamental
purpose is to help them achieve this. Despite the current price situation
CABI Commodities can help improve the income of smallholder farmers
input costs (often using inexpensive 'off-the-shelf' solutions)
Training in post-harvest
processing and quality improvement
Research to find
more sustainable, environmentally friendly coffee production and crop
our Technical Services page)