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Insult to injury in the world of coffee

Google result when you search ‘Worst coffee website ever’

Don’t mind this link. It’s just the worst website ever on some crappy news site, but the headline ‘Coffee prices fall after bumper crop‘ caught my attention.

So back in January the whole of Central America, Peru and Colombia exploded with an infestation of leaf rust, a fungus that sweeps through coffee farms, strips trees bare, and leaves spindly zombie bushes that are shadows of their former selves. Which is bad. For you. If you’re completely dependent on coffee for income – as most farmers are in countries where coffee is grown.

But then out of nowhere Brazil comes up with a predicted bumper crop in a supposed off-season prompting the bookies setting the futures at the NY ICE to lower coffee prices further. So what you have here is a textbook case of salt being heaped into a gushing wound. While some of the finest coffees of the world come out of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the whole gang, there’s no income if there’s nothing to sell.

And it’s cool because all sorts of people are rallying around to help coffee farmers improve things. There’s this great Roya Recovery Project, the International Coffee Organization is up to some good things, and of course Fairtrade International is putting together  funding proposals and dong trainings, and the folks at Fair Trade USA have jumped on the bandwagon as well.

Now I apologize as I will get a bit cynical here. But what is it when we’re okay with it if farmers are struggling to cover  basic costs of production and can’t even afford a full meal everyday for their families. But then if  production falls and we can’t get the special coffees we so richly desire, suddenly it’s an international crisis.

No doubt it is a crisis as this is destroying people’s only livelihood in many cases. But what if folks in these communities weren’t completely dependent on coffee? What if there was a local economy beyond the coffee monoculture, maybe this crisis wouldn’t be so bleak? Or maybe the price of coffee ought to not only cover costs, but also extra so people can invest in improving their plots and fixing things up. But with prices as they are, even if these farmers had a full harvest, that wouldn’t happen.

So this stinks.

But there’s hope and people doing cool work out there. People like Coffee Kids, Food 4 Farmers and others who have the uncanny ability to look beyond coffee and see that people need options. People who understand that the future of coffee is dependent on people having choices. So maybe you should go over there and give whatever extra you would pay for a really fancy coffee to them to do their work.