Our Thoughts On Coffee:

Coffee is a virtuous crop

  • It provides employment and cash to rural areas
  • It protects against soil erosion
  • Aids good watershed management
  • 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.

An engine of sustainable development

CABI Commodities 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 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:

“With 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.”

Helping smallholder coffee

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 through:

  • Reduction of input costs (often using inexpensive ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions)
  • Training in post-harvest processing and quality improvement
  • Sustainable coffee production methodologies
  • Research to find more sustainable, environmentally friendly coffee production and crop protection technologies

Here are just a few recent examples of the disruption resulting from historically low coffee prices:

Colombia: “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]

India: “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 2001]

Ethiopia: “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 2002]