According to new research the COVID-19 pandemic is probably going to cause what authors called a “severe production crisis” in coffee as multifaceted web of socio-economic factors make conditions worse for small coffee farmers.
The multi university study including Rutgers, Purdue, the University of Hawaii, CIRAD, Exeter and Santa Clara University, looked at the leaf rust outbreaks in the Americas in the past and the recent outbreaks elsewhere of the crop-killing disease.
The study also discovered links between a lack of investment in coffee farms under poor socio-economic conditions, the increased prevalence of leaf rust and poor conditions for farmers and other players in the coffee production chain.
The study concluded that further socio-economic problems caused by COVID-19, like impacts on labor and reductions investments, are probably going not create long-term shocks that will threaten global production levels. The final link in this chain will be increased cost for everyday coffee consumers.
The price of coffee is often discussed from a vague and abstract lens when the conversation is had in the country of consumption rather than production. Falling prices aren’t always seen as bad. And sometimes falling prices aren’t. But the viewpoint is often neutral and somewhat detached from the people who produce the product.
As one might expect though, fluctuations in price can have very really impacts on the lives of the farmers. In Peru, many farmers have moved on to a more stable and a hundred percent more illegal crop, coca.
Academics from the UK who have been studying the growth of coca production in Peru have interviewed many farmers who have lost faith in coffee farming.
Some farmers where recorded as saying things like “coffee used to be the golden bean.” But they say that with leaf rust and falling prices the minds of many have been changed. Many claim that coffee is more work than pay off.
Coffee shrubs take years to reach their full potential and are delicate and finicky. Also, it is only harvested once or maybe twice a year. Coca on the other hand is almost the complete opposite. It is easy to grow and can be harvested multiple times a year.
I met with Steve, Joe, and Jody Victor at a conference last weekend and due to the travel time and not wanting to miss a single speaker it seemed I consumed a tremendous amount of one of my favorite elixirs, good ole’ black coffee. It also seemed it was a little pricier suddenly so naturally I “Googled” it to see if my observations were correct. To my surprise I found that we really are paying no more for a cup of coffee than in 1967 adjusted for inflation according to this article from Roast Magazine.
I suspect that seeking convenience with single serve brewing methods and a preference for barista-formulated confections is causing me to increase my monthly coffee allowance. But it is comforting to know that something is still priced like the good old days!