Coffee is cheap… it is very cheap!

Coffee growing & sourcing

Coffee is cheap… it is very cheap!

angel barrera | 2019-03-29

Recently, I was reading an article of Tim Wendelboe, about how coffee is cheap. I think he is completely right, and I would just like to deepen a subject he barely touches: producer’s side. I permit myself to continue his writing, just for one reason: my family has produce for over a hundred years in El Salvador. It is true that now, people is taking conscious of why qualitative coffee is expensive, and how much work it takes to produce it… but do we, the people working and involved in qualitative coffee, do as much as it is possible for us to make consumers conscious about it? Just please note that I say qualitative coffee and I don’t highlight only “specialty coffee” as many said. Why? For me is very simple, personally, I always think in coffee “pickers”, from specialty or not, as conditions are nowadays, would live in poverty all of their lives.

So, to come back to the question I first asked: do we do as much as possible to make conscious in people of why qualitative coffee is expensive? Certainly not. I would try, as I first say, to add something to his writing... with my point of view, from my other world.

Producer’s cost I will always remember a moment of my life, even if very young: the last called “coffee crisis” which started in the end of the 90’s, and that producer’s all over the world had to absorb. The coffee prices reached its records… to the minimum. I remember the mainly two questions my dad posed to himself in that time were: do I work my farm? Do I pick coffee this year or let it fall (it was not cheaper, doing that he just didn’t lose money)? However, there was one main reason why he decided to continue working: he didn’t want his workers starve. My dad is a medium-small scale producer, in terms of size, he produces Pacas & Bourbon over the 1000 meters & employees about 10-15 workers during all the year and over a hundred during the harvest. I don’t know if his coffee is graded over 80 points, for me, it worth easily a hundred. Is it true that now we don’t have longer those prices… but alarms are starting to turn on again… and I always like, to remind what producer countries lived during those horrible years. In El Salvador, for agricultural workers (according to a study done in May 2011) there is a minimum wage of 0.43 USD per hour, which means 3.50 USD per day or 104.98 USD per month. That’s for permanent workers. For workers during the harvest, it depends on the farm and the way of harvesting (stripping or picking); last year’s the price paid went from the 0.75 USD till more than a dollar for an arroba of harvested coffee (arroba is a unity of weight, 1 arroba is equal to 25 pounds or 11.36 kg). When I talk of harvested coffee, I’m talking of cherries, not green coffee (the change is about 5 to 1, meaning 5 kg of cherries are transformed into 1 kg of green exportable coffee). It doesn’t seem that much does it? And of course my dad would love to pay more his workers, but as Tim said it, as he runs his own business, he will always try to provide a correct life to his family (as all the coffee farmers, and any person owning a business in the world). And of course, as also Tim said so, each year, for each harvest ihe is the one who takes all the risks, his harvest doesn’t have any insurance (one rain in December would be enough to make fall all of his coffee… and as in many other countries, coffee, as merchandise, is not always 100% secured, from the farm till the port…). And finally, as maybe a 90% of coffee producing countries, he has any subvention coming from the Estate, but certainly has all of its taxes (the main difference between a coffee coming from El Salvador and one coming from Australia). Then, imagine all the costs of production. Have you heard about the raising in oil prices? Do you know how does that affect the prices of fertilizers? In which concerns the normal works for the farm, I would just remark that in countries like El Salvador (and plenty of other producing in high altitudes), having tractor and machinery in general is just simply impossible! I would, finally, say two thinks. First, what I think since I live in Europe concerning our market, and second, what I think we need to do!
  • Since I live in France, I could say I have noticed something. I live in Bordeaux, and for what I could have seen, it is normal to buy a bottle of a “grand cru” wine for 40€, 100€ and of course prices go on, and on, and on…
Is it very hard for me to imagine a consumer paying over 15€ for a bag of 250g freshly roasted coffee… and however, using 12 g of coffee, you could make up to 20 cups of a “grand cru”! Let’s say it is not a daily coffee (certainly), but if you think that it would be the coffee of your “special evenings”, for your guests and you could make it up to 4 times having 5 guests per night with one bag! Of course, to make this real, we need first to educate the consumers, we need to make them differentiate the quality between a good coffee and no matter what other one!
  • What I think we should do: educate the consumer. It is completely normal to pay more for a qualitative coffee than for a conventional. But it is not enough. We need to educate consumers about why qualitative coffee is so expensive, but to do that, we need first (everyone involved in coffee), to know it and believe in it, to be conscious of what it costs to produce qualitative coffee, how hard it is. And of course, we should never doubt about our price, but please explain it always, explain who are all the actors involved in the chain and the formidable work they make.
I do believe in coffee, because it’s a noble product. But above all, I believe in coffee, because I always see the faces, of people working behind.

Angel, Belco's Team
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