Coffee from the farmer’s point of view.
In my browsing of one of my favorite magazine‘s blog sites today, I came across a post describing the life of a coffee farmer today. Multiple times on this blog I have talked about the prices coffee farmers make for a once-a-year crop, but I have only talked about it in generalities.
The blog post, which is a followup to an article in the current issue of Barista Magazine (and if you want to read it, just drop by and ask!), goes onto Mr. Obobo’s farm in the Nyeri district of Kenya–a country already known for commanding a higher price for their coffees. Even though we in the coffee industry are aware of the challenges farmers face, this post brings to light many of the more in-depth details of what it is like to be a farmer today.
One paragraph hit home. Hard:
I kept trying to run the numbers to see how it could work out using best-case scenarios. My thumbnail calculation: 250 trees producing 10kg each equals 2500kg or 5500lbs. Say he fetched awesome prices $10/lb for half of his lot and $5/lb for the other half. In that example, he would gross $41,250 for his year’s worth of work. From that he would pay approximately 1/3 in combined fees to his coop, exporter and national coffee board. Lowering his gross to $28,875. He also has to cover his expenses for running the farm for the entire year, save for next year, pay his taxes to his local, regional and national governments, and help his children go to school. But if instead of those fantastical prices he gets just a good price, something closer to reality, say $4.00 for half of his lot (still a great price) and $2.00 for the rest his yearly gross falls to $11,500. And he still has all of those other expenses to cover. For reference, today the c-market is trading just over $2.00.
250 trees per farm is the usual when we talk about Smallholder Farmers. Mr. Obobo has worked hard to increase the yield of his trees to gain more traction in the markets. Many farmers aren’t this lucky. So this story repeats itself a countless number of times throughout the coffee growing regions of the world.
How can this disparity be? What can we do as coffee consumers to fix this?
I am reminded of a scene from the TV show The West Wing. (No, I am not going to get on a political aside here: this is not about politics or weather or not you agreed with the scope of the show…) In the scene, a gentleman was touring colleges with his soon-to-graduate daughter. He was well off, had a good paying job and college fund set up, but was scared. He didn’t think he could afford to send his daughter to the college she wanted. He wasn’t looking for handouts, he just wanted it to be just a little easier.
To me, Mr. Obobo and the myriad of farmers in the same situation really need it to be just a little easier. To make it so they survive–not to mention to be able to send their daughters to school.
So what is the option? This is the conundrum facing even the most progressive of “Third Wave” coffee roasters and coffee shops in the world. The knee-jerk reaction: pay more for good coffee and hope that those of you walking into our establishments understand why we charge what we do (or more, as the case may be). And be aware that your extra pocket change can–and does–go a long way to bettering the life of the farmers.
Just a little something to think about when you settle in to that morning cuppa…