Who grows your coffee?

International Coffee Day on October 1st gave us reason to again pause and reflect about life for coffee growers around the world.

Australians drink more than two billion cups of coffee each year, yet less than one per cent of that coffee is Australian grown.  We have good areas climatically to grow high quality coffee, including coastal south-east Queensland, and we don’t have the pests and diseases that growers have to contend with overseas.

But there are very few growers in Australia because it is difficult to compete with imported coffee, even with our mechanisation and modern agronomic practices.

At Glasshouse Plantation, we are gearing up to grow, harvest, process, roast and sell the coffee we will produce from our 5,000 trees direct to coffee drinkers because that’s the only way it is economically viable.

In many parts of the world where coffee is grown, people are paid very little to grow or process their crop.  Over the years, great programs have been set up to try to ensure an equitable return to farmers. 

So we were aghast earlier this year to read this story in an issue of the Bean Scene Magazine, Australia’s premier coffee publication which said:

According to the latest edition of the Coffee Barometer report, the largest coffee companies in the world are failing to report transparently on their 2020 commitments and doing too little to ensure sustainability for farming and farmers.

Behind many of coffee’s problems is a stubbornly low coffee price for farmers. Many coffee farmers already operate well below the poverty line, and it can be even worse depending on farm sizes, productivity levels, or how efficient national structures are. This is in stark contrast to the billions made from coffee consumption, which are highly concentrated in the United States and Europe.

While this story is completely disheartening, what can we do about it? In some of these countries, coffee is one of the few legal crop options available to farmers, and they need our support.

Perhaps we can talk to the places where we buy our daily coffee about where their coffee is grown and what they know about the farmer/s who grew the crop and the people that picked and processed it.  We can also ask about Australian grown coffee.  As consumers, we can be a powerful force for change by providing feedback to supply chains about what is important to us.