The bitter truth about our coffee
Next to water, coffee is the most popular drink in the world – almost one trillion cups are drunk worldwide every year. In Germany alone, each adult consumes an average of 162 liters per year. No wonder that coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world. Only oil is traded even more. The market is very unfair, especially for coffee farmers. It is a long way from harvesting the ripe coffee cherry to the finished roasted coffee bean. And an even greater way for the increase in value. However, it is primarily the companies that benefit from this – but not the pickers. For one kilogram, they receive only a few cents. To live on their wages, they must, therefore, harvest up to 45 kilograms a day. The working conditions are harsh; the safety precautions on the plantations are often inadequate.
Coffee as a lifestyle accessory and luxury good
For consumers, coffee is continuously being reinvented and repackaged. Coffee capsules that advertise George Clooney and are presented in shops like jewelry at a jeweler’s, coffee to go at Starbucks, which is increasingly being stylized as a luxury good.
Coffee is generating ever-higher profits. In Germany alone, sales have grown by 139 percent in the last 20 years, with additional revenues amounting to 2.11 billion euros. But the story behind coffee is an age-old one. What is called globalization is, in reality, still colonialism. Only protagonists at the end of the supply chain benefit from the added value. Coffee producers at the beginning of the chain don’t notice any of this at all. Worse still, they even experienced a drop in sales over the same period.
The problems of coffee farmers
Coffee farmers at the beginning of the supply chain also have to contend with all sorts of problems. Climate change makes the harvest more unpredictable every year as coffee plants are sensitive to heat and unpredictable rainfall. Other issues include falling coffee prices on the world market and forests’ clearing to create more and more plantations.
Dramatic consequences for coffee farmers
Families who live from growing coffee in countries such as Ethiopia, Honduras, Kenya, Colombia, or Peru find themselves in precarious circumstances, often without their own toilet. The proportion of illiterate people is exceptionally high, and their impoverishment encourages migration, drug trafficking, and child labor. Since women do around 70 percent of the work involved in growing and harvesting coffee, they are the most affected. For example, women pickers in Guatemala receive just under five euros for a hundredweight of picked coffee – a pittance even for this country.
The coffee protectionism of industrialized countries
Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of green coffee. The country earns 2.70 dollars per kilogram. By comparison, Germany, the largest exporter of roasted coffee, makes 6.21 dollars per kilogram, more than double that amount.
But politicians in Germany and the EU protect their coffee industry. On imported roasted coffee, most of the growing countries pay 7.5 percent customs duty. Green coffee, on the other hand, can be imported duty-free. Even though Fairtrade initiatives have been launched in the meantime, coffee farmers still do not receive a share of the billions from large corporations such as Nestle, Starbucks, and Co.
Small quote from KX ORAIO
No one can guarantee you proper treatment, fair trade, and so forth, not even we. You should be aware that most things, such as coffee, are greenwashed. No Label and no trader can promise 100% security. Moreover, it would be best if you never forgot that coffee is not growing in the developed world. Therefore, it will always cause issues on the environment, labor, and others.
What we can do, though, is to buy from your known roastery and avoid industrially produced coffee. The coffee might be more expensive, but the coffee farmers most likely get more from it, and you get the best possible quality.
Drink every cup with joy and awareness.