Let’s talk about the price of coffee.
Today we visited a community of farmers in Honduras who have been trying to improve the quality of their coffee for several years. Their standard practice has been to incompletely and incorrectly process their coffee, then sell it to an exporter mill who will finish processing, mix it all together and sell it to buyers around the world. This is common in many parts of the world and it results in the “commodity market” price of coffee. There are some major problems here.
First, the C-market price has been crashing. This is due to a complex variety of reasons, not the least of which is from climate change-related crop diseases and pests that lower quality worldwide. The price of coffee has become so low, some farmers have opted to abandon their farms. They cannot make a livelihood selling coffee. Some of these farmers even end up attempting illegal migration into the United States.
Second, these co-ops dilute great coffee with lower quality so they can achieve higher volume. It works out for the exporter but can be an oppressive problem for a coffee farmer with good coffee. The exporter has access to the end customer and the farmer does not. Therefore, the farmer cannot dictate higher prices for his quality coffee because he doesn’t have the power to negotiate directly with the end buyer.
Here is where the direct trade model can help! Roasters like myself have been making efforts to visit these wonderful people in person to ensure the supply chain economics benefit the farmers! We also work to educate, empower and build relationships with them, changing a power dynamic that has exploited farmers for many years. It’s slow progress to do this, but it’s important and ethical.
I’ve never felt so humbled in my life than when we told a farmer today that he had some of the best coffee we tasted in his community. His entire face lit up and he grinned ear to ear just to hear it. There is power in compassion and I’m grateful to do something good for a living.