Like many other agricultural industries, it’s no secret that the coffee industry faces serious issues concerning ethics and sustainability. While not all coffee farming happens unethically or unsustainably, a very significant portion does. Today, we’re going to take a look at 3 of the most pressing issues affecting the future of coffee farming.
There are so many environmental challenges facing the coffee industry; from the severe lack of genetic diversity in coffee plants, to outbreaks of crippling coffee plant diseases (which are occurring more frequently), and the alarming amount of pesticides and herbicides used in conventional coffee farming. We could easily dedicate this entire blog just to exploring each complex issue.
Climate change poses a very real existential threat to the world’s coffee production. By some estimates, the varieties of coffee that we know and enjoy today may be entirely gone in just 20 to 30 years; in fact, recent data suggests that by 2050, up to 50% of current arable coffee-growing land could be unsuitable for growing due to the effects of an ever warming climate.
Even under the best circumstances, coffee is a notoriously difficult crop to cultivate. It only flourishes in tropical areas located within 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south of the equator in a region known as the “coffee belt.” As conditions continue to get warmer, less stable, and more unpredictable, these growing regions will slowly diminish.
This is perhaps the greatest and most pressing challenge to solve: finding ways to preserve the delicate environments that coffee requires to be a commercially viable crop for the indefinite future.
Restoring these lands will play a vital role in creating a sustainable future for coffee, which is why Bean & Bean donates 1% of all online sales to the Sloth Institute in Costa Rica. You might be wondering: Why sloths? Sloths and coffee are actually intricately connected: both depend on the same ecosystems to thrive. By working with the Sloth Institute to help restore the healthy, biodiverse rainforests that sloths need, we're also supporting sustainable coffee farming practices in Costa Rica. You can learn more about our partnership with the Sloth Institute here.
Fair Compensation for Farmers
Farming coffee takes an incredible amount of labor. Of all the major commercial crops in the world, you’d be hard pressed to find one that requires more work from farm to consumer than coffee. Farmers have to grow the coffee, pick the coffee beans (by hand, in the case of specialty coffee), process and then mill the beans. After which, they’ll have to work with an exporter to package their coffee and prepare it for shipment. An importer buys the coffee (although sometimes the importer and exporter are the same entity) and then sells it to a coffee roaster who finally roasts the coffee, brews it and sells it to the end customer at $2-3 per 12oz cup.
How much of that money do you think makes it back to the farmer? In most cases, not that much — just pennies per pound of coffee. The stark reality for a large number of farmers is that they often end up losing money with each harvest.
Again, the topic of financial sustainability and all the factors that influence the price of coffee is one that we could talk about endlessly, but the bottom line is simple: farmers need to be paid more for their coffee.
One way that you as a consumer can be sure that the money you put towards buying coffee, actually ends up in farmers’ hands, is by supporting Fair Trade and Organic certified coffee. These coffees come with price premiums that roasters and importers have to pay in addition to the current trading price for coffee; this helps to ensure that the farmer is being paid a fair amount.
Some roasters also operate on a “direct trade” model where they buy directly from the farmer without the need of an importer/exporter so that more money goes straight to the farmer. However, there’s no certifying body for direct trade, so consumers have to take the roaster’s word that they’re paying fair prices for their coffee. When in doubt, look for Fair Trade or Organic labels—which nearly all of our coffees at Bean & Bean have.
Gender Equality in Coffee
Coffee has historically been — and is presently — a male dominated industry. Depending on the region, up to 70% of labor in coffee production is provided by women, yet women receive far less than their fair share in economic resources and benefits. In much of the coffee-growing world, women are far too often excluded from decision-making, training and leadership opportunities that could lead to growth.
As a women-owned business ourselves, we think the first step to changing this dynamic is pretty clear: support as many women farmers as we can to make sure they have access to the resources and opportunities needed to pursue personal and financial growth. At Bean & Bean, we do this by working directly with women-run coffee farms and cooperatives where a majority of women are in leadership and management positions.
Sip Women-Powered, Fair Trade and Organic Coffee
The hard truth is that the path to a sustainable future for coffee is going to be a tough, uphill battle. One part of that effort involves a consistent, conscious effort on all our parts to be better consumers and make more informed decisions about what we purchase. One small way you can change your habits is by making sure your daily coffee comes from a Fair Trade, Organic and women-grown source. Here are some of our favorites: