Coffee Industry in Central America
Coffee production plays a significant role in Central America’s economy and continues to be a major export crop in an industry that impacts more than 1.2 million employed workers across the region. An ongoing coffee crisis caused by falling world prices, shifting climates and natural disasters has left many smallholder farmers struggling to turn a profit on their crops, driving many out of Central America for a better chance in the United States. Texas A&M University’s Norman Borlaug Institute is addressing the threats that the coffee industry in Central America faces through the education and training programs of its Center for Coffee Research and Education (CCRE).

An Ongoing Coffee Crisis

CCRE, established in 2016, is a branch of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University that works to refine global coffee quality and supply through research and capacity building. The Borlaug Institute first got involved in the coffee industry in the 2000s after organizing a project alongside USAID to support women coffee farmers in Rwanda, according to CCRE assistant director Eric Brenner. The Borlaug Institute also assisted in Central America following a 2012 outbreak of a coffee leaf rust disease stemming from the fungus Hemileia vastatrix or “La Roya.”

Resilient Coffee in Central America

Preventing coffee leaf rust formed a fundamental goal of CCRE’s Resilient Coffee in Central America project, which lasted from 2018 to 2020. This USAID-sponsored project emerged to research and promote newer crop management methods and train smallholder farmers with climate-resilient agricultural practices. The project took place in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, reaching an estimated 745,000 hectares of land used for coffee production. The leaf rust outbreak most harshly impacted these three countries, affecting about 50% of coffee crop acreage and resulting in more than $1 billion in damages in 2013 alone.

The Resilient Coffee in Central America project directly benefited more than 22,000 smallholder farmers by establishing 104 demonstration plots on farms across the three countries, each showing the capabilities of rust-resistant coffee hybrids and varieties. The demonstration plots also promote better management and processing practices while advocating market diversity by growing different varieties of coffee plants. According to USAID, the project also “promotes new economic opportunities, particularly for women and youth, including plant nursery management, coffee milling, energy generation, marketing, cupping and retail occupations, such as baristas,” thus reducing the need to migrate due to a lack of employment opportunities.

Rust Outbreak Returns Amid Pandemic

CCRE’s efforts have not gone unnoticed in Central America, but climate-related setbacks are still affecting crop production on coffee farms. In November 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota wracked Central America, affecting more than 7.5 million people in the region. The two hurricanes left a wave of intense humidity in their wake, spurring a revival of the leaf rust disease.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, coffee exports in Central America have drastically decreased. For example, the 2019/2020 harvest season, which starts in October and ends in September, had a 17% reduction in exports. The region’s coffee recession has significant links to the lasting effects of the hurricanes, the lockdowns caused by COVID-19 and the cyclical nature of the leaf rust breakouts.

Honduran Coffee Academy

In 2020, Honduras, “the region’s largest producer,” stood as one of the worst-affected coffee exporters of Central America. In the first four months of the 2019/2020 harvest season, coffee exports from Honduras reduced by 40%.

CCRE’s latest project, the Honduran Coffee Academy, serves to improve working conditions with employee training programs and coffee research. Located at the Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) in the capital city Tegucigalpa, the facility offers training and education on topics ranging from coffee genetics, crop management, nursery management, water management and more. Roger Norton, regional director of the Borlaug Institute, believes the project “will contribute to strengthening the livelihoods of coffee farming families and the international competitiveness” of the coffee sector.

The CCRE at the Borlaug Institute continues to support the labor force in the coffee sector by training people on sustainable practices to prevent the disastrous effects of leaf rust diseases. Projects like Resilient Coffee in Central America and the Honduran Coffee Academy help workers in the coffee industry in Central America prepare for the many uncertainties the industry faces.

– Evan Lemole
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Lab-Grown Coffee
New advancements in agricultural technology are making it possible to produce sustainable coffee that can be grown in any location. Scientists in Finland have recently created lab-grown coffee. According to the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, scientists employed cellular agriculture to produce coffee cells. The end result was coffee with an aroma and taste similar to regular coffee, marking the very first batch of coffee produced in Finland. The cold climate in Finland is unsuitable for coffee-growing, but cellular agriculture has made it possible to produce coffee in any location regardless of the climate of the area. Cellular agriculture has the potential to increase food production and solve many of the world’s problems.

The Global Coffee Industry

The coffee industry uses more water than people might expect. According to the United States Geological Survey, the world needs “about 120 billion cubic meters of water” annually to produce coffee. This means that of all of the water used for crop production, about 2% exclusively goes toward producing coffee. In a world where droughts are becoming more severe and environmental challenges are evident, it is necessary to develop innovative solutions that bring to the forefront the possibility of producing more crops while also using less water.

Cellular agriculture can make it possible for more people to produce coffee. People can earn significant incomes working in the coffee industry, allowing impoverished people the opportunity to rise out of poverty with a livelihood and an income. However, the coffee industry has some limitations. According to Business Wire, the global coffee market was worth about $102.02 billion in 2020 alone. However, right now, the only nations that can produce large amounts of coffee are countries that possess ideal areas and conditions for thriving coffee crops. Currently, “Brazil and Vietnam account for the highest production of coffee, in terms of volume, owing to suitable coffee growing conditions.”

The Benefits of Cellular Agriculture

If cellular agriculture becomes mainstream, any nation will be able to produce coffee and more people will be able to earn an income by working in the coffee industry. By implementing cellular agriculture to produce coffee, concerns about growing coffee trees fall away and coffee industry workers can focus on less taxing types of work within the coffee industry.

When cellular agriculture becomes more mainstream, potential coffee growers will not have to worry about adequate land access for crops and a suitable climate to produce coffee. Lab-grown coffee is exempt from problems like droughts, diseases and transportation issues prevalent in the conventional coffee industry. Lab-grown coffee also does not contribute to problems like deforestation and water shortages as it does not require land and excessive water use. In an interview with the New Atlas, VTT Research Institute scientist Dr. Heiko Rischer said that “These solutions have a lower water footprint and less transport is needed due to local production. There isn’t any seasonal dependency or the need for pesticides either.”

Looking Ahead

Lab-grown coffee is just one example of efficient crop production through the help of cellular agriculture. Cellular agriculture is still a relatively new concept, but it is capable of solving many of the world’s economic and environmental problems. Cellular agriculture can make it possible to sustainably provide food for more people while reducing harm to the environment. Unsustainable food-producing practices keep people in poverty, but cellular agriculture can help end many causes of poverty while ensuring a sustainable solution to global food insecurity.

– Frank Decapio
Photo: Flickr

orphans learn life skillsNestled at the base of the Santa Bárbara Mountain in Honduras lies Santa Bárbara, a city known for producing sugarcane, coffee beans and livestock. The city is also home to El Jardin De Amor y Esperanza, also known as the Garden of Love and Hope. An orphanage that opened in 2011, the Garden of Love and Hope takes in children that have outlived their parents or whose parents cannot provide for them. This orphanage, though small, has an incredible impact on children through its ability to rescue them from destitute situations. Orphans learn life skills that will prepare them to be successful in life outside of the orphanage. One way the orphanage accomplishes this is through the use of its Selva Café, which helps the orphans learn real-world skills.

The Garden of Love and Hope

The Borgen Project spoke with Lukas Dale, a volunteer that traveled to the Garden of Love and Hope with a group organized through Olivet Nazarene University. Dale describes a home visit he did on his final volunteering day, giving him the opportunity to “experience the kind of conditions the local people live in.” The home “was a tiny 7x7x7-foot clay and mud box that had no plumbing and only one bed. It housed a family of grandparents, a mom, five kids and a dog.” Dale says the experience gave him “a new and more accurate understanding of the situation people in impoverished countries must live in.”

Though much of Honduras struggles with poverty, the Garden of Love and Hope works to give orphans the best resources and education possible. Its primary mission is to provide the children with food, shelter, clothing and medicine while helping them with school. Footsteps Missions significantly supports the orphanage. A nonprofit organization, Footsteps Missions works to send volunteers to Santa Bárbara to assist the orphanage.

Dale shared more of what he witnessed at the orphanage, explaining that the children were treated well by staff who are “happy to volunteer their time to care for the kids.” Furthermore, he explains that “There were many children and teenagers who didn’t have any tangible hope for their futures. A lot of the teenage girls had been raped and either had children to take care of or were just working through their trauma, for example.”

He describes the orphanage as “a very loving, accepting environment that focuses on giving the children hope for the future by equipping them with practical skills.” By providing children with safety from their former circumstances, the orphanage also supports the children’s futures.

Selva Cafe

One of the most pertinent ways that the Garden of Love and Hope helps children learn life skills is through Selva Café. Owned by the orphanage and Footsteps Missions, the small coffee shop’s funds support the costs of caring for the children at the orphanage. The café also employs children from the orphanage. By running the cash register, preparing food and coffee and serving customers, children gain work experience.

Dale reflected on his experience when he visited the orphanage. He said, “Footsteps Missions was also in the process of opening a café near the orphanage that would help fund the orphanage and give the children a place to gain work experience. Since the café was in the process of opening, we helped with some physical labor projects they had around the property, taught the owners how to use financial programs on the computer and set up a cash register for them to use.” The Garden of Love and Hope works to help orphans learn some of the life skills needed to succeed in the world outside the orphanage. It does this while serving the community through the production of coffee and baked goods that can be purchased at the café.

Importance of Helping Orphans Learn Life Skills

The concept of “life skills” means a young person possesses the qualities needed to succeed, such as confidence and personal and social skills to interact with others. The Garden of Love and Hope realized children needed to have both formal and life education, the latter of which only comes with experience. Traditionally, the family unit teaches life skills. However, since orphaned children do not always have a family to rely on, it is more difficult for them to acquire the necessary experience to succeed. By establishing Selva Café, the Garden of Love and Hope fosters a place to learn skills. Teaching children life skills will also give them the desire to serve their community, including those also in poverty.

Though it is small and relatively new, the Garden of Love and Hope and its partnership with Selva Café give the Honduran children of Santa Bárbara hope for their futures. By equipping children with valuable life skills learned through serving tourists and their community in the café, these children have the potential to rise above their life circumstances and grow into capable adults.

– Allie Degner
Photo: Pixabay

The Opium Epidemic In MyanmarMyanmar has been suffering from an opium epidemic for decades. The country’s political instability and lack of economic opportunities outside of the world of illicit drugs are driving it. However, various initiatives are emerging to encourage another way of life. A French coffee company has emerged to give opium-producing communities hope and offer them an alternative livelihood.

The Opium Epidemic in Myanmar

Myanmar is the second-largest producer of opium in the world. The poppies the country produces end up as heroin, which is transported to neighboring countries. Alternatively, Myanmar citizens themselves purchase it for use. Opium use has historically been medicinal or traditional, with people offering it at ceremonies such as weddings. However, more serious drug-related issues have arisen. There are now many cases of HIV/AIDs and hepatitis C. This is due to the general switch to the more cost-effective manner of injecting heroin rather than smoking it, resulting in the unsanitary sharing of needles.

Due to the long-lasting political instability in the country, the health system collapsed whilst international aid dwindled as a political response to the deteriorating governance in Myanmar. In this time, the production and consumption of drugs also skyrocketed.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), between 2006 and 2014, the production of opium increased from 240 tons to 670 tons per annum. This is due to a mix of factors, such as poppies being more lucrative than other crops. This resulted in a rise in living costs for these impoverished farmers. Ultimately, for many, there are no other viable means of making enough money. However, an initiative to fight the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee has emerged to make a difference.

Alternative Development

The UNODC works with governments and other organizations in Southeast Asia, where poppy cultivation and consumption is rife, to create programs of alternative development. The aim of this is to permanently eradicate poppy cultivation by providing sustainable alternative livelihoods to producers.

In 2014, in an attempt to alleviate the opium epidemic in Myanmar, the UNODC set up the Green Gold Cooperative (GGC), which brings together many families from various villages in the Shan state to give them an alternative livelihood to opium production. Shan is a northern state of Myanmar, producing 90% of the country’s opium.

The cooperative provides a change in occupation for almost 1,000 farmers. In addition, it is giving the community social space facilities such as nurseries. This initiative works on several levels, including working to improve gender equality, with 50% of the administration board being women. The cooperative continues to evolve as a success story, having received its Fairtrade certification in 2019.

Malongo and the Green Gold Cooperative (GGC)

Malongo is a French coffee company, and in 2017, it formed a partnership with the GGC and the UNODC, subsequently launching its new Shan Mountain Coffee in 2019. For Malongo, this was not simply a charitable act to fight the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee. First and foremost, this was a business initiative as the company wanted to create a market alternative where the workers benefit from the added value of the high-quality coffee they produce, and, where consumers can be sure of the quality when purchasing it on the international market. Malongo, therefore, provided training for each stage of coffee production.

There were other substantial local benefits that came from this business initiative. Not only did it provide livelihoods, but it also increased peace through uniting different ethnic groups in the region that historically were in conflict to work together and leave poppy cultivation behind. These local groups can also consume their coffee, an evidently safer alternative to the opium they used to produce.

Coffee production has also helped environmentally as poppy cultivation brought about deforestation, soil erosion and decreased biodiversity. Now, many former poppy fields are becoming forests and the replacement production of coffee provides eco-friendly and sustainable crops. The farmers take great pride in coffee production. The particular coffee even became internationally sought out in top markets due to its high quality.

The Role of Foreign Aid

The importance of foreign aid in fighting the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee is unprecedented. Germany and Finland were the main financers of the development program, with Switzerland providing resources directly to the GGC.

USAID has also played a key role by giving technical assistance and market advice to locals since 2013, helping more than 8,000 farmers with the quality and sale of their coffee beans. This foreign aid has, in turn, meant these countries benefit directly from their work abroad as Myanmar now exports coffee to more than 16 countries, including the U.S.

These alternative production initiatives have significantly improved the economic, social and environmental situations for the farmers involved, and, overall opium poppy production is decreasing in Myanmar. This has served private sector interests as Malongo’s return from its investment is embodied in its high-quality coffee range. Additionally, countries such as the U.S. can now enjoy an emerging and increasingly stable trading partner in Myanmar. This initiative, benefiting all parties involved, is proof that public and private interests can overlap and bring about profound and long-lasting change in suffering communities.

Hope Browne
Photo: Flickr

coffee in VietnamThe comforting routine of having a rich cup of coffee in the morning is a habit shared by millions of people around the world. Unique flavors and distinctive brews come from various countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. Vietnam, once an underdog in the coffee industry, has now become one of the top coffee exporters in the world. As a new major contender in the international coffee trade, Vietnam faces new economic opportunities moving forward. Importantly, coffee in Vietnam has the potential for reducing poverty.

How Coffee in Vietnam Took Root

French colonists introduced coffee in Vietnam in 1857. The central highlands region, Buon Ma Thuot, had ideal growing conditions for the crop. Accordingly, it became a target region for coffee cultivation. Growing coffee in Vietnam proved to be difficult yet promising. The government encouraged citizen migration to rural regions such as Buon Ma Thot, which gained a 265% increase in the overall population. By the end of 2000, more than 4 million people settled in this area, which created a new and expansive workforce for the coffee industry. This new workforce, combined with the government’s coffee-growing program and the increased demand for coffee worldwide, created a boom in Vietnam’s economy.

In the span of just two decades, Vietnam became one of the most competitive coffee producers in the world. It now ranks as the second-largest coffee exporter behind Brazil. Starting with 8,400 tons of coffee produced in 1980, production numbers skyrocketed to 900,000 by 2000. Coffee production has contributed to Vietnam’s GDP increasing by 7.7% within the past few years. Unexpectedly, coffee became an important player in the Vietnamese economy.

Challenges Brewing Within the Industry

Two main types of coffee beans, Robusta and Arabica, compose most of the beans exported by countries worldwide. Currently, 95% of Vietnamese coffee exports are Robusta, known as lower quality beans. As a result, the success of Robusta in the market depends on fluctuations in global demand. Vietnam’s coffee industry must account for this variable by improving the flavor and quality of beans harvested in Buon Ma Thuot to remain competitive in the worldwide market.

But, remaining competitive in the market is no easy task. Unlike globally known brands, such as 100% Colombian coffee, Vietnam still needs to establish its trademark in the international market. Currently, processed coffee accounts for only 7% of Vietnam’s exports. Increasing coffee processing by establishing joint ventures with known retailers and roasters could create new opportunities for the industry. If Vietnamese brands become household names, Vietnamese coffee can garner substantially greater profit margins in the global market.

In addition to increasing coffee quality and ameliorating marketing tactics, Vietnam’s farming strategies must improve. Though Robusta is typically more resilient to environmental stressors, such as hot climates, pests and disease, this coffee crop is still susceptible to the dangers of unsustainable farming practices. Farming strategies that rely on intensive irrigation and the overuse of fertilizers can exhaust soil quality.

To combat land degradation, Vietnam’s government collaborates with global companies such as Kraft Foods and Nestlé. It also works with conservation organizations such as the 4C Association, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade Foundation. Together, they educate farmers, improve farming practices and establish an agricultural standard. This works to effectively and sustainably increase the production of coffee in Vietnam.

Solving Poverty One Cup at a Time

The significant surge in coffee production in Vietnam also means countless farmers and citizens gain a newfound source of income. With only 6% of total coffee production used domestically, coffee has become Vietnam’s key export. Coffee production provides a livelihood for around 2.6 million people. Importantly, 600,000 of these individuals are small-scale farmers, many of whom belong to underrepresented social groups.

This emerging industry has allowed Vietnam’s economy to vastly improve within a short span of time. Economic growth continuously boosts Vietnamese citizens’ quality of life. In 1994, Vietnam’s poverty rate stood at 90%. As of 2020, the poverty rate has lowered to 23%.

Global corporations also take part in developing Vietnam’s coffee industry and helping farmers. Nestlé and Mondelez International have each invested more than $200 million in training farmers to distribute stable supplies of coffee. In 2015, Starbucks introduced Vietnam Da Lat, its first single-origin coffee from Vietnam, to its locations in more than 50 countries. Altogether, more than 21,000 farmers benefited from foreign investments in this booming industry.

Overall, coffee in Vietnam is a growing industry with many future possibilities. With the right policies and guidance, Vietnam’s coffee industry can further improve its economy, provide income opportunities and increase standards of living for countless communities nationwide.

Vanna Figueroa
Photo: Flickr

Supporting Smallholder Coffee Farmers WorldwideWhat is there not to love about the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the morning? But, what most java enthusiasts do not realize is that 44% of the world’s smallholder coffee farmers are currently living in poverty and 22% live in extreme poverty. The existing coffee trees are aging and changing climate conditions threaten farms’ productivity while the risk of crop diseases increases. An outbreak of coffee leaf rust, a fungus that cripples the trees’ productivity, struck many small family farms between 2012 and 2014. Coffee leaf rust caused more than $1 billion in crop losses in Central America, which led to 1.7 million jobs vanishing across Latin America.

Farmers Below the Poverty Line

Even in the best conditions, one-third of farmers earn less than $100 per year from growing coffee and 60% of the world’s coffee is produced by farmers with less than 12.35 acres of land. Challenges arising from inefficient production methods and profiteering coffee roasting companies make it difficult to earn a living. Of the 12.5 million smallholder coffee farmers worldwide, an estimated 5.5 million exist below the international poverty line.

Coffee farmers face many obstacles, including the low international price of coffee. According to Oxfam, some farmers have little to no power to negotiate with traders and must accept the low prices offered. If farmers process their coffee by removing its outer layer, they can demonstrate their beans’ quality and negotiate a higher price. But, if their coffee is sold in its original form, they must settle for a lower price. In Peru, even with semi-processed beans, farmers are still short-changed. And while traders make extra profits for themselves, coffee roaster companies in the United States and Europe make even larger margins.

Smallholder Coffee Farmers Need Support

In the Andean region and across Central America, approximately 750,000 smallholder farmers produce coffee and cacao. Often these farmers depend on limited water resources, which are barely enough to grow subsistence crops. Low incomes result in malnutrition, minimal educational opportunities and disease. Quechua-speaking communities as well as Amazonian Indigenous communities receive little support from the government, and therefore, lack agricultural technology. This dearth of opportunity perpetuates poverty.

Maximizing Opportunities in Coffee and Cacao in the Americas (MOCCA) is working to help smallholder coffee farmers efficiently produce more coffee and cacao. Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food for Progress Program, MOCCA is carried out by a consortium led by TechnoServe, a nonprofit organization operating in 29 countries. MOCCA also partners with World Coffee Research and Lutheran World Relief.

MOCCA’s Initiatives to Aid Smallholder Coffee Farmers

MOCCA works to improve the lives of more than 120,000 coffee farmers in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Peru. It enables farmers to make much-needed improvements while addressing the underlying problems that prevent their farms from becoming profitable.

MOCCA’s goals include:

  1. Training smallholder farmers to adopt agricultural and business practices that can increase quality, yield, sustainability and profitability. This includes pruning, stumping or replanting unproductive trees, which can dramatically improve a farm’s productivity without expanding its acreage into forest ecosystems.
  2. Augmenting research, bolstering the sustainability of research initiatives in the region and improving how research findings reach farmers. A regional coffee breeding hub offers a centralized resource to enhance varietal development, along with climate-smart solutions.
  3. Expanding farmers’ access to pure, healthy genetic planting material for planting, verifying large seed-producing nurseries and giving technical assistance in best production practices.
  4. Integrating farmers into higher value trading models by working with roasters, processors and private exporters to expand or capture greater market value. By addressing issues such as supply chain inefficiency, this plan allows farmers to obtain higher profits and reinvest in their farms, while boosting buyers’ local, sustainable supply of higher quality products.
  5. Mobilizing and collaborating with finance partners, value chain stakeholders and local governments to implement finance mechanisms for the farmers.
  6. Improving institutional capacity to deliver services that support renovation and rehabilitation. This involves collaborating with coffee and cacao institutions to expand their existing services, or introduce new ones, to support the farmers they serve.
  7. Strengthening platform support to the coffee and cacao sectors to promote knowledge and technology sharing among sector stakeholders.

In addition, MOCCA works to integrate young people and women into coffee and cacao market systems, so that these systems are more inclusive.

In February 2020, the National Coffee Association, the leading trade organization for the coffee industry in the United States, named TechnoServe the “Origin Charity of the Year.” This award recognizes the company’s work in supporting smallholder coffee farmers around the world.

Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

10 Mission-Driven U.S. Coffee Shops Fighting Global PovertyAccording to the National Coffee Association, 64% of Americans above the age of 18 drink at least one cup of coffee per day. Coffee is clearly important for many Americans, but few think about the often impoverished communities that grow the coffee beans. Only a select few countries are suitable for coffee production and many of them are at an economic disadvantage. Recognizing this inequality, many U.S. coffee shops are incorporating ways to relieve global poverty into their business models. From partnering with international nonprofits to doubling as a refugee training program, these 10 mission-driven U.S. coffee shops are fighting global poverty with each morning iced latte.

10 Coffee Shops Fighting Global Poverty

  1. Elevate Coffee: This mission-driven coffee shop in Phoenix, Arizona, believes that small donations go a long way in the fight against global poverty. With every purchase of a latte, Elevate Coffee donates $0.10 to Water 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization that works to make clean water more accessible in developing countries. Water 4 Kids provides clean water packaged in easily recyclable aluminum cans to children in areas where clean water is scarce.
  2. 1951 Coffee Company: Taking inspiration from the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention where the protection of refugees was first discussed on an international level, 1951 Coffee Company is a nonprofit cafe based in Berkeley, California, that trains refugees for careers in specialty coffee. So far, its program has trained 79 individuals while creating a supportive community for refugees in the local area.
  3. Duo 58 Cafe: This cafe in Orlando, Florida, is committed to reducing world hunger. Duo 58 partners with a nonprofit organization called Mission of Hope that provides meals for children in Haiti. In 2020, Mission of Hope has been able to serve 101,000 meals to students every day.
  4. The Well Coffeehouse: The Well Coffeehouse in Nashville, Tennessee, is taking a hands-on approach to relieving the conditions of global poverty. By funding the construction of wells in developing countries and forming strong relationships with the farmers who produce their coffee, The Well Coffeehouse is certainly “turning profits into hope.” So far, The Well Coffeehouse has funded the construction of 23 clean water wells in various African countries.
  5. FEED Shop & Cafe: This mission-driven coffee shop in Brooklyn, Newyork, is the first retail location of the nonprofit, lifestyle brand FEED. FEED sells products crafted by artisans in developing countries, such as India and Sri Lanka, and donates their profits to nonprofit organizations that relieve world hunger. Each price tag of a FEED item tells the buyer how many meals their purchase can provide in developing countries. At FEED Shop & Cafe, customers can enjoy great coffee and buy products that foster sustainable communities.
  6. Ascension Cafe: Based in Dallas, Texas, Ascension Cafe aids impoverished communities in coffee-producing regions. This cafe understands that the effects of poverty are multifaceted, so its profits go toward improving conditions for struggling communities in a variety of ways such as funding clean water projects and entrepreneurial programs.
  7. MiiR Flagship: MiiR Flagship in Seattle, Washington, doubles as a cafe and shop that sells MiiR products, such as stainless steel bottles and tumblers that encourage sustainable living. With each purchase of a beverage or MiiR product, the company donates to poverty-reducing projects in 26 different countries. Since its start in 2010, MiiR has raised more than $1.3 million.
  8. The Roosevelt Coffeehouse: This mission-driven coffee shop based in Columbus, Ohio, partners with a group of nonprofit organizations including Blood: Water Mission, Food for the Hungry and Gracehaven that work toward solutions to global hunger, clean water scarcity and human trafficking. The Roosevelt Coffeehouse does not keep its humanitarian work under wraps — the brand strives to bring awareness to global injustices and inspire others to get involved.
  9. Mocha Joe’s Cafe: This cafe in Brattleboro, Vermont, serves coffee made by Mocha Joe’s Roasting Co. The company wants to cultivate flourishing ecosystems and communities, so its coffee blends are made with fair trade and sustainably-sourced beans. Additionally, Mocha Joe’s maintains direct trade partnerships with small coffee farms in Cameroon, Bolivia and Guatemala to encourage economic development in their communities.
  10. Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee: With a “Do Good Initiative” at the core of its business, this coffee company based in Roswell, Georgia, gives back directly to the communities that grow its coffee by funding projects to provide needed resources. Recently, Land of a Thousand Hills built a health clinic near Kivu and Ruli, two remote Rwandan villages.

These 10 coffee shops are doing their part to contribute to the global fight against poverty — one cup of coffee at a time.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Flickr

Labor Exploitation in Coffee
Around 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world in a typical year, an equivalent of 2.25 billion cups per day. The global coffee market was worth $83 billion USD in 2017 and was projected to rise steadily. Despite coffee’s popularity in modern life, few coffee drinkers realize the human cost to their caffeine fix. From inhumane working conditions to child labor and human trafficking, labor exploitation in coffee production is a bitter reality unbeknownst to consumers.

Global Trouble

The majority of coffee consumption happens in industrialized nations, with the United States, Germany and France as the largest importers. Conversely, more than 90% of coffee exports come from developing countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico. Evidence suggests the presence of child labor and/or labor exploitation in coffee production in all of the above countries, in addition to many others like Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic and Uganda, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor.

From beans to brewing, coffee production is a multipart process that involves many intermediary stages before the final products reach retail stores. This laborious process means that it is extremely difficult for coffee retailers to track the origins of their coffee and ensure ethical labor practices at the source. It also means that only a small fraction – often 7% to 10%, but sometimes as low as 1% to 3% – of the retail price reaches the hands of coffee farmers. Fluctuations in coffee prices often result in farmers not earning a living wage, which jeopardizes the survival and health of their families.

Farmers’ Reality

Growing coffee requires intensive manual work such as picking, sorting, pruning, weeding, spraying, fertilizing and transporting products. Plantation workers often toil under intense heat for up to 10 hours a day, and many face debt bondage and serious health risks due to exposure to dangerous agrochemicals. In Guatemala, coffee pickers often receive a daily quota of 45 kilograms just to earn the minimum wage: $3 a day. To meet this minimum demand, parents often pull their children out of school to work with them. This pattern of behavior jeopardizes children’s health and education in underdeveloped rural areas, where they already experience significant barriers and setbacks.

Forced labor is widely reported in coffee-growing regions in Guatemala and Côte d’Ivoire. Workers suffer physical violence as well as threats of loss of work, wages, or food if they fail to perform at a certain – often unreasonable – standard. Many work without a contract, timely payment, protective gear, or appropriate medical care. Migrants are especially vulnerable since many cannot afford to return home and have to rely on plantation work to survive.

Child Labor and Exploitation

About 20% of children in coffee-growing countries fall victim to labor exploitation in coffee cultivation. Facing demanding quotas, workers often bring their children to help in the field in order to earn a living wage. The U.S. Department of Labor reports an estimated 34,131 children laborers growing coffee in Vietnam, 12,526 of which are under the age of 15. The same report finds almost 5,000 children under 14 working on coffee plantations in Brazil, often without a contract or protective equipment. In Côte d’Ivoire, children are subject to human trafficking and forced labor. Children are forcibly transported to coffee plantations from nearby countries including Benin, Mali, Togo and Burkina Faso and recruited to work for little or no pay, often for three or four years until they could return home. Threats of violence and withheld payments prevent them from leaving the farms, and many suffer from denial of food and sick leave.

Many South American countries have launched extensive and effective social programs and policies to address child labor and labor exploitation in coffee farms. In 2018, Colombia made significant advancements in efforts to tackle child labor through its campaign Working is Not a Child’s Task, the National Policy on Childhood and Adolescence, and the Center for the Crime of Trafficking in Persons. The Brazilian government funded and participated in programs that target child labor, such as the #StopChildLabor (#ChegaDeTrabalhoInfantil) Campaign and the Living Together and Strengthening Links Program (Serviço de Convivência e Fortalecimento de Vínculo).

The Fair Trade Movement

In the past decade, labor exploitation in coffee cultivation has garnered attention worldwide. As a result, many socially aware businesses have committed to a fair trade approach that promotes better profits for farmers and more sustainability in farming practices. Among other objectives, the fair trade movement works to give farmers a higher price for their coffee under conditions that strictly prohibit the use of exploitative practices. Ethically certified coffee brands such as Equal Exchange and Cafedirect have risen in popularity as consumers become more aware of labor exploitation issues. Certification schemes such as Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified bring value to socially conscious businesses and encourage trading practices that empower smallholder farmers.

– Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

Bird-friendly coffee
As the market demand for coffee grows in industrializing nations, bird-friendly coffee may offer an eco-friendly solution to an unsustainable industry. The global population consumes approximately 7.5 million tons of coffee each year, and experts expect global coffee consumption to more than double in the next 20 years.

Earth may not have the capacity to keep up with demand. Forests absorb 40% of human fossil fuel emissions, and the destruction of these carbon sinks contributes to a warming climate that diminishes the land suitable for growing coffee and drives coffee plantations into previously intact forests at higher altitudes. This cycle of deforestation and warming perpetuates the loss of the 1.6 billion livelihoods. It also destroys habitats for 80% of terrestrial species supported by forests.

A Possible Future for Coffee Production

Some farmers embrace shade-grown coffee as an environmentally and economically sustainable means of coffee production. Shade-grown coffee production is a method of agroforestry that integrates coffee plantations and forest growth on the same land. Environmental benefits of shade-grown coffee compared to full-sun coffee production include erosion control, better soil health, carbon sequestration and increased bird habitat.

These environmental advantages translate to economic benefits. For example, agroforestry practices reduce nutrient and labor inputs into the soil due to the natural decomposition of leaf matter. Agroforestry also supports bird-friendly coffee production by creating healthy bird habitat. Birds provide free pest control that eliminates or reduces the need for harmful chemical pesticide use. A single bird living on a shaded coffee plantation can protect 23-65 pounds of coffee each year from pests like the Coffee Berry Borer, which inflicts $500 million worth of damage annually to the coffee industry.

Shade-grown coffee plantations typically produce 30% less coffee than full-sun plantations. However, the economic benefits of agroforestry compensate for this loss, saving an average of $2,000 per hectare each year. In fact, a study that researchers conducted at Cornell and Columbia Universities demonstrated that small-scale farmers, including 25 million coffee farmers in developing nations who produce 80% of the world’s coffee, could optimize their profits by converting at least 36% of their plantations to shade-growing practices.

Additionally, shade-grown coffee farmers can benefit by growing tree crops like mangos, passion fruit and guava on their plantations for sale or consumption. In Guatemala and Peru, for example, fruit grown on shaded coffee farms comprises 9-11% of the plantations’ economic value.

Certification Systems

The environmentally-induced economic benefits of practicing bird-friendly coffee production are many. Moreover, consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable, shade-grown coffee. A survey of more than 1,300 coffee drinkers in the U.S. interested in the conservation of bird habitat revealed that the average bird watcher is willing to pay an additional $2 per pound of coffee for bird-friendly coffee. A 50 cent premium per pound of shade-grown coffee can optimize profits on small-scale farms at 85% shaded production.

Certifications like the Rainforest Alliance certification, Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable quality certification and the Bird Friendly Coffee certification from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center all contribute to shade-grown coffee premiums. With additional support to low-income farmers from certification systems and governments, the transition to shade-grown coffee can help to reduce the growing environmental impacts of coffee production while increasing profits and fair market access for small-scale farmers. These measures will contribute to an economically and environmentally sustainable future. All of this can occur without sacrificing one of the most popular beverages in the world.

Avery Saklad
Photo: Flickr