Hey little blog, I missed you! I swear I’ve been writing, too, just for different purposes, and then there was the weekend at the beach and the arts festival… Regularly scheduled content should be back soon. Plus, I’m taking “Writing for the Web” and “Community Journalism” MOOCs at the moment, which should help make future posts even clearer and more fun to read. Yay for continued learning!
And learning I have been a lot lately – especially all about coffee! Want to explore some of the most interesting facts with me?
- Specialty coffee is the new kid around the block. In 2014, it has for the first time ever taken over non-specialty coffee in the US with a market share of 51%. This is great news, particularly for producers in Central America, because this high-quality coffee can be sold for higher prices than the world market average.
- However, sustainable coffee is still struggling. The idea spread like wildfire among producers – of course, who doesn’t want premium prices? Yet, this has led to oversupply in many certification schemes. According to estimates, only 30 – 50% of the certified harvest is actually also sold under the labels. Because there is not enough demand for certified products, the rest flows into the conventional market, at farmers’ losses (who had to undergo certification efforts and costs anyhow).
- The trouble with a global commodity market is also that you get one price, no matter what your production costs are. When South East Asian countries like Vietnam entered the scene, Central American countries – with much higher input costs – started to struggle. And the problem is perpetuated even in the Fair Trade system, where the price guarantee is the same worldwide, which is still at an unsustainably low level for producers here.
- The solution for many farmers in Costa Rica and elsewhere is to focus on quality instead. However, once you arrive in the segment where coffee tastings define your income, environmental sustainability is secondary – and alternative production systems might even be counterproductive because they may affect the taste, and taste is what counts.
- Yet, coffee production is inherently resource-intensive. Look at these Ethiopian farmers harvest the red coffee cherries – the only valuable part is the bean. First, you need to get rid of the pulp, the mucilage and the parchment (which are all layers surrounding the bean) – more than 50% of what you grow is essentially waste! There have been attempts to put the pulp to use in animal feed, but if you give livestock too much they get hyped up on the caffeine and will be sick. Furthermore, the wet milling process uses a large amount of water. It is the most commonly used processing method in Central America, despite the fact that some regions are called the “dry corridor” because of frequent droughts.
So my main takeaway so far? We are paying way too little for what we consume. Listening closely, you realize that the only reason the exodus from coffee production in Costa Rica is not mirrored in other countries is that there are alternatives here – and, as one of my interview partners said, “in Honduras you just continue to farm because the alternative is to starve.”
Check back soon for more coffee stories!