I came across this article about Fair Trade at the Oromia Cooperative in Ethiopia. The article touches on a Fairtrade Climate Standard to help farmers acquire an alternative stove – to replace the traditional ‘three-stone’ fire. Given the cooperative’s focus on coffee, the new stoves are destined for coffee producers. The stoves mean that there is less need for gathering of firewood, ergo more time for other activities, less pressure on the standing forest, and less smoke in the home. While there are all sorts of additional spokes to the wheel of combatting climate change, this is one positive effort for a coffee producing cooperative. And, this particular cooperative produce some excellent organic coffee beans, which we enjoy roasting and brewing. Groups like FairTrade International and 1% For Women provide great opportunity for agriculturalists worldwide, and especially women farmers. We at the Roastery are proud members of both groups.
As we sip on an afternoon cappuccino or drown in a morning brew looking for the caffeine fix, it is difficult to pull yourself out of the urban atmosphere, the lights, the traffic, the veneer of the cafe interior, etc and think about where your coffee came from. Once you begin to trace its journey to the cup, you may ponder supply chains, distribution networks, artistry of roasting, origins and fate of packaging, commodity markets, port cities, tropical hillsides dotted with farms, beans drying in the sun, and a host of other subjects. The list of what there is to learn and the depth of potential subject matter is astounding.
One topic that gets little play in the world of coffee is the business acumen of growers. Coffee periodicals cover how coffee is harvested and processed as well as innovations that encourage success or novel ways of using by-products in the chain of production. Usually the coffee bean is the common link, however a recent blog post in Daily Coffee News delves outside of coffee production and highlights strategies to diversify.
A certain level of climate change is undeniable, save for a few remnant deniers. As we feel the impacts of climate change, we must implement economic diversification strategies. We at the Buena Vista Roastery continually analyze ways to diversify and are signatories on the Caring for the Climate Initiative. Fortunately we are also participating in the Caring for the Climate forum in Paris in 2015. The blog post by Jefferson Shriver presents other crops that producers can grow, such as cacao, vanilla, macadamia nuts, spices, etc. While introductory, Responding to the Climate Crisis through Crop Diversification is a refreshing opening to alternatives that coffee producers, the “guinea pigs of climate change”, have to explore.
Growing Coffee in a Warming World
Some of the soaring coffee prices is a result of warming temperatures. Warmer temperatures result in more moisture, more humidity, more pests, more damage to the coffee fruit and an overall reduced supply, especially in coffea arabica, specialty coffee. Some people are talking about carbon offset programs and trading carbon credits, which brings a whole set of problems of its own and rearranges deck chairs on the Titanic.Â I won’t get into the carbon credit program or my thoughts on other ways to address climate change here. The Savory Institute and its related videos and articles is a great source. But, this blog post, A new financial model for growing coffee in a warming world in SUNfiltered is an interesting introduction to one perspective.
A quote from the blog post:
The global Fair Trade movement has done a stellar job of highlighting the economic plight of coffee farmers in the developing world, many who barely eke out a living growing one of the worldâ€™s most heavily traded commodities. And while Fair Trade has always had an environmental element to it, that may become more pronounced as these farmers become some of the first victims of global climate change.
And the video on Colombia and approaches to dealing with a changing climate:
A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor highlights the difficulty that organic farmers are having in sustaining a market, and therefore are looking to go back to conventional coffee production.
A lot of the transition comes down to a supply and demand. Roasters, like ourselves at the Buena Vista Roastery, have been increasing their organic offering over the years. We have increased through the years as best we can, with the understanding that some coffee varieties are not available as a certified Organic. Yet the cost of coffees continues to increase, with our own average price per pound for green increasing this year by 30%.Â The commodity price of coffee continues to rise, so roasters seek to reduce costs. One primary way of doing so is to offer conventionals. The demand wanes, and therefore the supply of coffee in situ means that farmers must offload their product by devaluing it via the conventional market. The more the consumer (roaster and imbiber) are unwilling to pay a premium, the greater likelihood that the farmers will go back to conventional agricultural practices. Seems pretty straightforward.Rest assured, we continue to seek high quality specialty coffees, certified Organic.
From the article, here is an interesting statistic and quote from a Guatemalan farmer:
The expense of organic certifications, composts, and the losses incurred by pests and other factors mean growing organic costs about 15 percent more than growing conventional crops, Mr. Haggar says. More notably, by using chemical fertilizers a farmer can coax about 485 pounds of coffee out of one acre, versus 285 pounds per acre on an organic farm, according to CATIE…
…â€œI can sell [nonorganic coffee] to a coyote [middle man] for around the same price [as organic], a little less, and I can use whatever I want on the coffee plants â€“ fertilizers I can buy, pesticides,â€ says Jose Perez, who stopped growing organic coffee on his three-acre farm in Guatemala last year. â€œI can grow a lot more this way.â€
There’s a lot of recent news about food fraud (and another article here). There is often this sort of thing in the paper, about one thing or another. For a long time it was about Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee – people advertising this coffee, when the coffee turned out to be a blend with only 10% or so Jamaican Blue Mountain.
We at the Buena Vista Roastery have recently entered a contract to sell Cafe Feminino coffee (our new Fair Trade Organic Peru) and we have certain demands for integrity along with it. Namely, that we will not blend the Cafe Femenino coffee with another and call it ‘Cafe Femenino’. This makes a lot of sense and unfortunately, a lot of roasters and coffee retailers may not use such integrity. Which brings me to the point of this blogpost: Food Fraud, namely organic integrity.
Our annual inspection comes up in a week or two. The diligent inspector will come and put us through the proverbial ringer to test to see that we, in fact, know and adhere to the standards set to ensure that there is no cross contamination in the processing of our coffee beans. Organic means Organic. Anyone who comes into the roastery can be sure that the organic beans we grind to brew as an organic brew were not ground in the same machine as a conventional. It’s truly organic. Furthermore, when it says it’s ‘organic’, it is. There is no out-of-date label on a bin. The bins have been washed with approved cleaning materials, the beans haven’t been blended with others and are true to what we say it is.
There are other places I have visited that sell “Fair Trade Organic” espresso that I know for a fact is not (because we sell them the beans and they don’t buy FTO beans). We can tell them, but there is no regulatory mechanism in place to maintain integrity on the retail side. I have asked about this, and there is nothing the industry can do.
I also have seen beans sold by another non-certified roaster as “organic”. We pay thousands of dollars to be certified and we are inspected as a service to the consumer so that they know their beans are organic. A processor who is not certified, can be selling any beans, cross contaminating, and is creating a horribly unfair competitive advantage for themselves, even not acting out of integrity.
So, please ask your roaster about their inspection, about their certification, about integrity. Be sure that the coffee you buy is in fact what it says it is. Let’s be rid of Food Fraud and express integrity.