Coffee Industry Problems That Make It Bad For the Environment30.11.2021
According to the British Coffee Association, there are two billion cups of coffee consumed every day worldwide. Coffee plays an important role in our daily lives, from rituals and catch-ups with our friends. We are all too familiar with the taste, smell, and buzz of coffee. But, we know less about the journey it took to reach our (reusable) cups.
Is coffee bad for the environment?
It is true that the coffee industry is in crisis, far from its impressive latte art and flat whites. Coffee farmers are being robbed by a system that favors profit over people. Unsustainable practices threaten the future and over-roasted coffee beans are the norm.
Pact Coffee, an independent coffee roaster, was asked to discuss the most pressing problems facing the coffee industry and what they could do to address them.
7 Problems for the Coffee Industry
- Farmers who are underpaid
How is coffee traded? The New York Stock Exchange trades coffee as a commodity. Coffee’s price fluctuates each day. Often, farmers’ take-home income doesn’t cover all of their production costs. The coffee price crisis has made it so difficult that 44% of smallholder coffee growers worldwide live in poverty.
What is Fairtrade coffee?
It might seem like coffee with Fairtrade certification is the solution. However, this model can be problematic. Fairtrade is meant to give farmers security by offering a minimum price they are able to count on. However, the base price of $1.40 per Lb of washed Arabica coffee has remained constant for many years.
Fairtrade certification is seen by some coffee companies as the ceiling and not the floor.
- The traditional supply chain
It’s the coffee farmer who we owe the greatest credit when it comes to producing coffee. The labour, patience, and skill required to make coffee beans is important.
But, before the coffee bean reaches our homes, it must pass through several intermediaries. There are approximately 10 intermediaries between the farm, cup and final sale. The money to purchase that coffee must pass through each of these parties.
Unfortunately, many farmers are left with nothing after everyone has been paid.
- ‘Big Coffee’
Due to the demands of “Big Coffee” to provide cheap, readily available coffee beans around the world, farmers have had to clear huge tracts of land to make huge quantities of low-quality coffee.
Farmers often have to produce as much coffee on their land as possible – regardless if the quality – just to keep up with the demand. Pact supports farmers in adopting sustainable practices by paying them more than a Fairtrade wage.
- Roast beans
This might seem odd to include on a list of problems in the coffee industry, but we are here to tell you. Coffee that is sold in supermarkets contains a lot of low-quality coffees, which have been roasted to a crisp to hide their poor quality.
Over-roasted beans can be compared to a piece toast. You can easily tell the difference between a loaf of supermarket bread and a sourdough loaf by how lightly you toast it.
If you toast the bread to a crisp, however, they will taste identical. This has unfortunately become a standard practice in coffee industry. Many people believe they like dark, over-roasted coffee, because it’s the most popular.
Big Coffee retailers are driven by the desire to control and save costs. Therefore, most of the ‘strong, dark’ roasts are code for ‘burnt coffee’. This cycle of poor coffee quality continues because there is less information.
- Gender inequality
The 2018 Specialty Coffee Association report on Gender Equality and Coffee concluded that women have lower incomes, less land, fewer assets, less credit and market information and less training and leadership opportunities.
Despite the fact women are often responsible for childcare and housework, they are not considered equals. Unfortunately, cultural and social attitudes towards women perpetuate the problem.
- Climate change
Coffee plants are vulnerable to environmental diseases and rising temperatures, which is why the climate crisis continues. Arabica coffee is one example.
75% of the world’s coffee production is from Arabica plants, which can withstand cooler temperatures at high altitudes. The rising temperatures have made it difficult to find suitable land for Arabica coffee. In addition, the warmer climate has created a breeding ground for pests.
Maria Pacas, a coffee farmer, says that El Salvador’s climate has changed over the past ten years. The temperature is rising and we have to contend with diseases like leaf rust, unpredictable weather and other ailments.
These problems often combine to produce poor crops and low income for farmers.
- The future
You might wonder why anyone would want to be a coffee farmer if you’ve read this entire article. The next generation, uninspired by the things they see, is moving to cities and towns in search for better-paid jobs.
There is an increasing skill gap at the coffee plantation level, and it is raising questions about the future of coffee farming. Things must change if coffee farming is to be a profitable and sustainable business for the future. Big time.
There has to be a better way
Pact Coffee has a mission: to make coffee more accessible for all. Better for farmers, better to coffee lovers, and better overall for the planet.
Pact is dedicated to changing the coffee industry by sourcing only the highest quality coffee, paying farmers 65% more than the Fairtrade base price, and championing sustainable farming practices. You can have better coffee and enjoy every cup by signing up for a subscription to freshly-roasted coffee.