Coffee From Cradle to Grave By Monica Martinez and Crystal Mount Race, Poverty and the Environment Professor Raquel R. Pinderhughes Urban Studies Program SFSU Spring 2003 Public has the permission to use the material herein, but only If authors, course, university and professor are cited.
Our presentation focuses on Coffee. It is designed to make you aware of the consequences of your purchase of a cup of coffee. It takes you through the cradle to grave lifecycle of coffee, paying particular attention to the social, environmental, and public health impacts of the processes associated with coffee.
We start with a brief history of Coffee, and we look why it is important to know where your coffee comes from.
We then look at the extraction and production processes, which includes where coffee is grown, the two types of coffee, and the environmental impacts of this processes.
Next, we explain the negative impacts on workers, which include the health effects of pesticides, the worker’s poor living conditions, the additional strains on women, children, and seasonal laborers, and the difficulties of unionization.
Later, we examine the health impacts on the communities surrounding the coffee plantations and we touch on the consumers’ health impacts.
Distributions is our next section, where we cover the routes of coffee from the small producer or plantation worker to the consumer.
Finally, we discuss the types of waste that comes from coffee, and what happens to it.
Coffee’s origin can be traced to the 12 th century in Ethiopia, where it is believed to have been first harvested (Waridel 32). “Traders brought coffee to the Middle East, from where it began to spread outward in the 15 th century, penetrating every corner of Europe over the next two hundred years”(32). Moreover, coffee became a very important means of European trade as it spread to the Dutch’s, French’s, and British’s colonies during the 18 th and 19 th century(32). At this time, people from Africa and natives of the colonies were enslaved to work in the coffee plantations (32). “During the period of decolonization, coffee was put forward as a miracle crop that would allow developing countries to achieve economic growth.”(32)
Beginning the 1970s, institutions began promoting technified coffee, which replaced the traditional shade grown coffee.
USAID was the principal player in Central America and in 1978, promoted a program called PROMECAFE, a Spanish acronym for “Coffee Improvement Project” (Rice 26) “At its initiation PROMECAFE promoted the intensification of coffee along the lines established by the USAID and its consultants. In the 1980s, technification was defined and rationalized :
“ ‘ Technification’ refers to the combination of measures,
including scientific pruning, shading, application of fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides, planting high-yielding rust resistant varieties as soon as they become available, and increasing the number of yields per manzana [1 manzana =0.69 hectare], so that average yields will increase from 7-10 quintales [1 quintal = 100 pounds] ‘dry bean’ to 30-35 per manzana.
“Existing coffee plantings are typically old, low–density plantings which suffer from disease and insect problems, lack proper nutrition, are unpruned and heavily shaded. These conditions and practices greatly restrict yields and reduce productivity. In order to effectively utilized proven production practices which consistently yield 30 or more cwt. per manzana, it is necessary to completely remove the present plantings and introduce new varieties and a technical package of inputs and procedures which farmers—through extension, education, and training—can readily employ.” (Rice 8-9)
These are the reasons USAID used to convince developing countries to switch from shade grown coffee to technified coffee.
“ Between 1978 and 1997, USAID established and implemented at least eight projects that either were aimed specifically at or converged logically with the coffee-technification process in Central America and the Caribbean. Over the course of some nineteen years, USAID funneled nearly $81 million into these projects, aiming to affect more than 300,000 hectares of coffee land and half a million producers in the region” (Rice 9).
In Mexico, INMECAFE was another institution that promoted changes in coffee production. “Over the past three decades Mexico has seen a 73 percent expansion in the area devoted to coffee, from 356,000 hectares in 1970 to …the current 615,000 hectares. (Rice 9)
Why is it important to know where your coffee comes from?
People think that the $2 they pay for their cappuccino at Starbucks is the real price of coffee, but in reality there are other costs in the coffee that impose negative social and environmental impacts, which are not included in the price.
“ Coffee is the second largest US import after oil, and the US consumes one-fifth of all the world’s coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world” (FAQ par.1)
“ North Americans consume more than 4 kg (9 lb.) of the black drink per capita per year, which averages out to about two cups per day for every man, woman, and child” (Waridel 31).
When consumers continue to purchase coffee without regard to the external effects, the current conditions that coffee farmers are going through will continue to persist. The disastrous environmental and social effects will continue to wreck and ravage the earth and the people.
Coffee is cultivated mainly in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Some of the main producer-countries are Brazil, Columbia, Indonesia, Mexico, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Uganda, and others (Waridel 51).
We think is important not to focus on one particular country to tell the story about coffee because all of these countries have one thing in common. That is the intensification and institutionalization of coffee as a monocrop, and the pressures put on these countries to be part of the global economic market that promotes free trade agreements such as The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Gresser, Charis and Sophia Tickell. “Mugged: Poverty in Your Cup.” Oxfam International 2002:7 Where is Coffee Grown?
Under the excuse to integrate lesser developed countries into the global market economy, “The World Bank and the IMF have encourage poor countries to liberalize trade and pursue export-led growth….” (Gresser 3) The NAFTA and the impending CAFTA (US/Central America Free Trade Agreement) are the only options given to these countries to strengthen their economies.
Unfortunately, the globalization of trade and the pressure to get greater yields to be part of the global market have forced these coffee-countries to emphasized their agricultural economies on cash crops such as coffee.
Therefore, they had to abandon their traditional cultivation methods to use the technological methods necessary for higher yields. As a result their economies became dependant on the coffee trade.
This means that the livelihoods of the communities in these countries also depend on the cultivation of coffee. For example:
“ In Mexico, coffee is still of great importance, especially to the 280,000 indigenous farmers living mostly in the poorer states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz and Puebla.” (Gresser 8)
“ In Brazil, although coffee provides less than five percent of total foreign exchange earnings, it provides a livelihood for between 230,000 and 300,000 farmers and employs a further three million people directly in the coffee industry.” (8)
The following graph illustrates the percentage of coffee exports compared to total exports in some of the producing countries.
Dependency on Coffee Gresser, Charis and Sophia Tickell. “Mugged: Poverty in Your Cup.” Oxfam International 2002:8
The non-traditional methods based on the intensification or technification of the coffee crops gave rise to the differentiation between one type of coffee to the next. As a result, we now hear the names “Technified-sun-grown coffee” or “Traditional-shade –grown coffee as the most important ways to refer to type of coffee you drink.
Although you may think that production methods do not chance the flavor of your cup of coffee, we will show you how “Technified coffee” might leave a different “taste” in your mouth after you learn of the hidden cost of the method used to make this type of coffee.
It is only fair to tell you that there are two other names by which people refer to the type of coffee you drink. These have to do with the type of plant specie cultivated with either technified methods or traditional methods. These are Arabica Coffee and Robusta Coffee. They are two of the more than twenty species of the coffee plant and they “account for the vast bulk of the coffee drunk worldwide.” (Dicum 40).
“ Arabica and [R]obusta species differ in taste, caffeine content, disease resistance, and optimum cultivation conditions. Natural variations in soil, sun, moisture slope, disease, and pest conditions dictate which coffee is most effectively cultivated in each region of the world.” (40)
However, it is the hidden costs of the technified coffee that carries the greatest importance and the one you will want to know more about.
If you buy ungrounded coffee at the supermarket, you probably know that you are buying seeds. These were once enclosed in the coffee fruit, “a drupe (a fleshy fruit surrounding a hard seed, like a cherry). Each ‘cherry’ usually contains two seeds, or coffee ‘beans,’ although occasionally only one seed develops.” (Dicum 39)
Coffee is cultivated by either small producers in “small farms with less that five hectares of coffee trees,” or by large landowners. (Waridel 42)
“ Cultivation begins with carefully choosing beans from highly productive plants. The beans are planted and raised in nurseries for their first year, after which they are transplanted outdoors to the plantation.
It is also called shadeless or near-shadeless technified coffee because large amounts of an overstory of valuable non-coffee trees that provides shade in traditional coffee farms are clear-cut to plant the seedlings.
It is extracted by means of intense monocropping, chemicals (fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides), and plantation workers.
It consists of rows that are spaced farther apart than traditional-shade-coffee with higher density of coffee plants. “Coffee plant density increases up to ten fold." (Rice, sec. 2)
Once the seedlings are planted, “it needs to be carefully maintained to protect against diseases and pests.” (Dicum 45)
Once the coffee plant is mature, which takes one to three years after planting, “ [it] produces 2,000 coffee cherries per year or about 4,000 coffee beans- the equivalent of one pound of roasted coffee.” (Dicum 40)
Mechanization is used during the picking stage. “Most picking is accomplished with the help of mechanical harvesters, monstrous machines that comb through the coffee plants, denudating them of all their loose cherries, but leaving the plants otherwise intact.
The result of such a rough massive scale mechanization is “and inferior product…which allows profit through volume.” (Dicum 51)
Farm workers on such farms must undertake regular application of fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, nematocides, and herbicides (sometimes with known carcinogenic chemicals); perform standardized pruning; help work the machines; and perform the post harvest proccessing.” (Dicum 47)
“ Whether by rows or by blocks, coffee shrubs are pruned via a ‘stumping back’ method, in which the truck of each plant is cut at about 35-40 centimeters above ground level. The remaining stumps then sprout new shoots, which are examined and thinned the following year to encourage new growth.” (Rice and Roberts sec. 2)
The tools that are used to prune the whole “blocks” or rows of technified coffee are small handsaws or “hand held” gasoline-powered weed cutters fitted with a heavy-duty rotatory saw blade (sec. 2)
“ The standardized treatment emerges in stark relief as one watches the workers walk down the rows of coffee, toppling all bushes just below knee height above the ground.” (Rice sec. 2)
This “scientific pruning” leads to shorter coffee plants, only 5-8 meters in height compared to traditional shade coffee. (sec. 2).
As a result ,the careful attention that trees need does not occur in technified coffee farms. Unlike traditional shade coffee, which receives individual attention, technified coffee receives pruning at the level of whole “block” or whole rows of coffee.
In the final process before exportation, “the fine skin which covers the bean must be removed with expensive machinery. The beans are then graded according to their shape, colour, and density. Sophisticated machinery is [also] used in this process.” (Waridel 50)
Technified coffee production causes a large number of species’ extinction.
Technified coffee farms have fewer bird species than traditional shade coffee--ninety percent fewer species. (Rice and Roberts ch.4)
Sun-grown coffee is a threat for birds because as more shade-grown coffee is converted to sun-grown coffee, more birds will loose their habitat.
Other essential diverse species that sun-grown coffee lacks are beetles, ants, wasps, and spiders. Moreover, bats, which are important seed dispersers and pollinators of many tree species, can not be found in technified coffee farms (ch. 4) B
When we lose the species by taking away their habitat, we are not only exterminating the biodiversity of the planet, but we are also weakening Earth’s natural resource base which supports all species including humans.
Technified coffee has worse soil quality than traditional coffee.
The reduction of tree cover, natural predators, and organic materials leads to higher rates of nutrient-leaching, and higher erosion. “When you cut down a forest [shade coffee], rain flows over the top of the soil, causing erosion and saltation that winds up in the river.” (Wexler, par 16)
A report on pesticides in Kenya, “Pesticide use and Management in Kenya” by the World Wide Fund for Nature
found that “[s]ignificant amounts of pesticides are used on coffee estates, and sprayers are regularly exposed” (Partow par.2).
The report showed that men predominantly do the spraying. “However, coffee harvesting activities are almost exclusively the domain of female laborers and their children, and the picking period overlaps with pesticide application periods” Therefore, they are frequently exposed when they are required to in recently sprayed areas (Partow par.3).
“ Workers sprayed from six to eleven hours a day” (Partow par.3)
“ There are no lunch breaks or other rest pauses…[and the] monthly wage was roughly US$11-14, placing pesticide farmworkers in the lowest income group in Kenya” Partow par.3)
Of those who had overalls, “laundering was either weekly (in 68% of cases) or at two to three week intervals, forcing workers to use pesticide-soaked clothing for long periods. Protective clothing often was deteriorated, and rarely replaced” (Partow, par.6).
“ None of the workers had received formal training in mixing, loading or application of pesticides” (Partow, par.7).
58% “did not know the name of the chemical they were applying” nor were they familiar with first aid procedures (Partow, par.7).
The chemicals they were exposed to are extremely harmful. They were “fungicides (such as captafol and chlorothalonil), insecticides (azinphos methyl, diazinon and omethoate) and herbicides (glyphosate and paraquat)” (Partow, par.7).
For Costa Rica, if all the chemicals were used in the semi-technified and technified areas and no chemicals were used on the traditional coffee, then “approximately 83,000 metric tons of ‘formula’ [correct amount of dosage] fertilizer and 17,000 metric tons of urea are applied to coffee lands each year” (Rice sec.2).
“Nematocides, one of the most toxic of agrochemcials, exceed 1,700 metric tons per year, and some 120,000 liters of the herbicide paraquat settle onto coffee lands [of Costa Rica] each year” (Rice sec.2).
“ Many pickers were adamant that pesticides were the cause of such ailments, noting that these symptoms did not arise when they were processing coffee or weeding manually” (Partow, par.8).
The majority of the farmers knew the pesticides caused their health problems but their fear of no job was more important than the illnesses. One laborer said, “If the pesticides don’t kill us, then hunger will” (Partow, par.10).
The price farmers receive for their coffee is devastating to their livelihood.
When taking inflation into account, “it is just now 25 per cent of its level in 1960, meaning that the money that farmers make from coffee can only buy one-quarter of what it could 40 years ago” (Gresser and Tickell 9).
Production costs are not even covered.
“ In Viet Nam…in Dak Lak province…at the beginning of 2002, the price farmers were receiving covered as little as 60 per cent of their production costs” (Gresser and Tickell 9).
The following graph illustrates that “individual farmers did not capture the full ‘producer’s profit’ as indicated here, since much was absorbed by intermediaries and inefficient marketing chains” (Gresser and Tickell 17).
Mohammed Ali Indris is an Ethiopian coffee farmers from the Kafa province. He is 36 years old and his household consists of 12 people, including the children of his deceased brother .
He estimated that about five years ago, he could have made $320 for the year with the combined sale of coffee and corn. This year he will only make $60 for his coffee and his family has already eaten the corn (Gresser and Tickell 10).
“ ‘ Five to seven years ago, I was producing seven sacks of red cherry [unprocessed coffee] and this was enough to buy clothes, medicines, services and to solve so many problems. But now even if I sell four times as much, it is impossible to cover all my expenses. I had to sell my oxen to repay the loan I previously took out to buy fertilizers and improved seed for my corn, or face prison”
“‘ Medical treatment expenses are very high as this is a malaria-affected area. At least one member of my household has to go to hospital each year for treatment. It costs US$6 per treatment. We also need to buy teff [stable starch], salt, sugar, soap, kerosene for lighting. We have to pay for schooling. Earlier we could cover expenses, now we can’t…Three of the children can’t go to school because I can’t afford the uniform. We have stopped buying teff and edible oil. We are eating mainly corn. The children’s skin is getting dry and they are showing signs of malnutrition. (Gresser and Tickell10).’”
In March 2002, the World Food program said that the “coffee crisis left 30,000 Hondurans suffering from hunger, with hundreds of children so malnourished that they needed to be hospitalized” (Gresser and Tickell 10).
The EU and USAID reported in January 2002 that “there would be increased poverty and food security issues for coffee farmers in Ethiopia, saying that farmers were selling their assets and cutting down on food” (Gresser and Tickell).
The income of the worst-off farmers who are dependent solely on coffee are now categorized as “pre-starvation” in Viet Nam’s Dak Lak province (Gresser and Tickell 10).
Earlier, Mohammed talked about medical expenses, this is a problem for many coffee farmers and their country’s ability to deal with other health concerns like HIV/AIDS (Gresser and Tickell 11).
“ In Ethiopia, where coffee is the major export and 700,000 households depend on it for their livelihoods and millions more for part of their income, the fall in coffee export earning poses serious challenges to the country’s ability to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis”(Gresser and Tickell 11).
It is estimated that over three million Ethiopians are infected with HIV/AIDS and “The Ministry of Health has projected that treatment for HIV/AIDS alone will account for over 30 per cent of the total health expenditure by 2014” (Gresser and Tickell 11).
“The burden of the disease not only has the potential to make extraordinary and unrealisable claims on the government’s health budget, which in part but must be funded by coffee revenues” (Gresser and Tickell 11).
HIV/AIDS has huge economic affects which are
low productivity due to sickness
the problem of finding money for medical care and drugs
funeral expenses (Gresser and Tickell 11).
“Women are particularly badly affected, both because of the added responsibilities arising from ill-health in the family and because they tend to go without when families have to make choices about who receives treatment” (Gresser and Tickell 11).
“The drying up of coffee cash in the local economy is one of the main reasons behind the collapse of several banks” (Gresser and Tickell 12).
“In Central America, the crisis has been said to be having the ‘impact of another [hurricane] Mitch’ in terms of income losses: these countries have seen revenue from coffee exports fall 44 per cent in one year alone, from $1.7 bn in 1999/2000 to $938m in 2000/01. Forecasts for 2001/02 are grim: a further fall of 25 per cent” (Gresser and Tickell 12).
In one year, Ethiopia’s coffee export fell 42 percent from $275m to $149m (Gresser and Tickell 12).
“In Uganda, where roughly one-quarter of the population depends on coffee in some way, coffee exports for the eight months to June 2002 remained at almost the same volume as the year before but earning dropped by almost 30 per cent” (Gresser and Tickell 12).
Even though export prices decline, the price of imports to producer countries does not fall nearly as fast, which then leads “to a deterioration in terms of trade” (Gresser and Tickell 12).
“[A] coffee farmer would have to sell more than twice as many coffee beans now as in 1980 to buy a Swiss Army Knife” (Gresser and Tickell 12).
Debt repayment becomes extremely difficult because the debt remains fixed in US dollars but the value of coffee is steadily falling (Gresser and Tickell 12).
Farmers are forced to sell their land or leave in search for other work to survive
“In some communities, we see that migration to Mexico city is very big. In one community, about three or four months ago, about eight trucks came in and took away all the people who could work to Mexican fincas…they stayed there between four to six months. That means social disruption of the family is incredible.’ Says Jeronimo Bollen, from a Guatemala co-operative, Manos Campesinos” (Gresser and Tickell 9).
“ [C]offee workers are forced into town to find work and housing resulting in a near collapse of the urban infrastructure in many coffee-growing regions of Guatemala. The population of Columbia, for example, a town about an hour away from Quezaltengo, has grown from 16,000 in 1994 to 35,000 [in 2001]. New residents are forced into squalid slums, living in one-room shacks made of wood, plastic sheeting and sheet metal, with no plumbing or electricity. Crime in rampant.” (Laslett, par.10).
Women are effected by this crisis very directly because as their husband goes off to find other work, the women and children are left to work the land. This results in children having to leave school to help the family (Gresser and Tickell 9).
Children are forced to work in the coffee plantations because fathers are forced to leave and also just do to the fact that families need additional hands to make ends meet.
“ Because of this situation, many coffee workers bring their children to help them in the fields in order to pick the daily quota. These child laborers are not officially employed and therefore not subject to labor protections. While children in most rural families work at an earlier age than urban children, a February 4 investigative report by ABC-affiliate KGO television in San Francisco revealed children as young as 6 or 8 years old at work in the fields.” (FAQ par 7).
Children are forced to leave school because fathers leave and also because families cannot afford to send their children to school.
“Bruno Selugo (aged 17) and his brother Michael (15), who live in Mpigi District, Uganda, have both had to drop out of school because they cannot afford the fees” (Gresser and Tickell 11).
“ ‘I can’t be successful if I don’t go to school,’ says Bruno. ‘…I have been send home again and again from secondary school…They just send you away if you don’t have the fees…This is the main coffee season. Everyone used to go back to school with the money from coffee, but now the money is not there…All I want is to go to school’” (Gresser and Tickell 11).
A head teacher at Bruno’s school, Patrick Kayanja explains
“The number of students is very low. Much as we try to reduce the fees, the parents cannot pay. They always took cash from selling coffee but now it is gone. There was a time, between 1995 and 1997, when we had 500 students. Three years ago we had 250. Last year we started with 140 and ended with 54. This year we cannot go beyond 120, the way I see the situation with farmers’” (Gresser and Tickell 11).
Seasonal workers were paid a daily wage but now they are paid a piece rate (Laslett, par9).
According to several coffee workers, the standard pay for cleaning one cuerda (24.5 square yards) of land is $1. Cleaning two cuerdas a day is possible, but a lot of work. This means that an average daily wage for coffee workers is $1.75 per day, significantly below the daily legal minimum of $2.75. Women and children are often paid half that amount.” (Laslett, par 9).
During the coffee season (3 to 4 months, which is not long) is when seasonal workers earn the most (Laslett par9).
Workers can earn $2.50 for 100 pounds of coffee. On a good day, workers can earn $3.50 for 150 pounds of coffee (Laslett par 9).
After the season is over, seasonal workers find themselves in the same situation as coffee farmers who have to migrate to the city in search of other income.
“In their struggle to win justice and a union contract, a majority of the 55 fired union members continue to live on the plantation, refusing to leave. As of today [June 2001], they have still not been reinstated, despite the fact that the courts have ruled in their favor many times” (Laslett par 5).
There was a warrant issued for the owner’s arrest but this also goes unenforced (Laslett par5).
Owners get out of giving their workers their rights such as benefits by cheating the system.
Guatemalan law states that workers must work continuously for 3 months to be eligible to unionize or to be eligible for social security programs (retirement or disability benefits) (Laslett par8).
Workers must work continuously for the same employer for 6 months in order to receive their legal two annual bonuses (= to 2 months pay) (Laslett par 8).
Owners cheat the system by rarely keeping workers for more than 90 consecutive days (Laslett par8).
Another example of unfair treatment of coffee workers is of 57 workers at a plantation called Finca Asuncion in Quezaltenango, Guatemala.
The four members who organized the union in September 1997 were immediately fired (Laslett par 14). Of the 57 who were in the union, only 3 members still worked at the plantation 2 yrs. later (Laslett par 14).
When the union first started, the ownerf tried many things to destroy the union.
“ In December 1998, he accused the union of being connected to armed guerrillas-after the peace Accords had been signed. Early one morning, over 300 military personnel and police occupied the community searching for guns and other proof of guerrilla activity. There was nothing to be found” (Laslett par 16).
The owner tried to sell his plantation to his wife and two daughters to avoid any legal obligations (Laslett par 17).
He tried to deny union workers access to water and firewood (Laslett par 18).
He pulled out fruit trees, which were planted by the worker’s grandparents because the union workers were eating them (Laslett par 18).
He order the church to be boarded up with the justification that it was being used for union meetings (Laslett par 18).
He denied children school (Laslett par 18).
“He also blacklisted the union supporters by sending their names to other employers…As a result, union members were forced to travel long distances to find work or work under false names in local plantations” (Laslett par 18).
“There are almost no national unions that attempt to organize all the workers in a particular industry. Rather, with few exceptions, workers are organized into small, company-based unions that remain isolated from other workers in their industry, even those that are unionized” (Laslett par 24).
This lack of organization makes code-of-conduct campaigns, like the one aimed at Starbucks (which we address later), difficult to win because without organized workers to confirm or deny claims of improvements, codes of conduct have limited effect (Laslett par 26).
Pesticide use in technified coffee farms threatens the water supply of rural residents.
“For example, serious public health and water quality impacts have been linked to pesticide use in Mexico: in one documented case in 1987, more than 200 people became sick from drinking water contaminated with agricultural pesticides and fertilizers in the western Mexican state of Jalisco.” (Rice ch. 4)
“ An average cup of java contains about 80 to 150 milligrams of caffeine.” (Dicum 116)
“ Too much coffee brings on ‘caffeinism,’ a condition characterized by anxiety, irritability, nervousness, lightheadedness, and even diarrhea.” (118)
“ Scientific research on the physiological and psychological impacts of moderate coffee drinking has turned up very little evidence implicating the drink in serious harmful effects.” (119)
Regardless of lack of scientific proof, remember that is not to the multinational’s advantage to fund more substantial studies. It is, however, your responsibility to make sure that better studies are performed.
The distribution of coffee varies from country to country depending on the mechanisms of local and national regulations. More importantly, in the free-trade route, small farmers and farm workers are at the expense of the middle man and the big plantation owners. Those farmers who are able to sell their harvest, do so for very little money in exchange for loans or services. The following illustrates the path that coffee generally follows from tree to cup.
Distribution of Coffee
Distribution of Coffee Continuation Source: (Waridel,43)
It starts off at the farmer’s plantations. Small scale farmers, who produce “roughly half of the world’s coffee supply…, are caught in the vicious cycle of poverty. They have limited land and limited resources…,and they do not produce enough to export directly, [so] most have to sell their crop to the local merchant (known as ‘coyotes’ in Latin America) at low prices.” (Waridel 42)
Because small farmers do not get enough money to meet their financial needs from harvest to harvest, they also have to borrow money from the “coyote” or middle man (Waridel 42).
It is usually the case that governments promote technified coffee crops by offering loans “oriented towards specific projects, such as the purchase of pesticide or the planting of certain export crops.” (Waridel 44)
Then, depending on the situation, the farmer would mill their coffee themselves to get a better price for it. However, some farmers “don’t have enough coffee to justify the cost of the pick-up truck, and are too far away to take their coffee to the mill by bicycle. These farmers have to take the lower price offered by the local middleman for their unprocessed cherries.” (Gresser and Tickell 24)
The plantation workers at the large landowner’s farm have more to loose that small farmers because they have to migrate from plantation to plantation following the harvesting season (usually traveling with their families-women and children), and they are paid by the amount of coffee they pick. (Waridel 44)
“ Because the need for labor in large plantations is seasonal—peaking during the harvest– many regions have developed systems of migrant labor. Usually, these temporary laborers come from regions even worse off than the coffee-producing areas. Plantation labor in Guatemala, for example is trucked to the coastal plantations from the impoverished highlands. Similarly, the Costa Rican harvest is undertaken by poor Nicaraguans and Panamanians.” (Dicum 47)
From the local middleman or the large landowner, coffee is sent to the processors, which “are often small entrepreneurs—also called ‘coyotes’ by producers—although in some cases, processing is done in factories owned by multinational corporations.” (Waridel 50
Next the exporter, who makes sure the beans are of the best quality for export, “makes sure that the right coffee is sent to the right place at the right time. Their goal, naturally is the same as of that of every intermediary, to buy coffee at the lowest time and resell it at the highest profit.” (Waridel 50)
Here comes the broker. These are “international businesspeople who buy and sell on commission without ever owning or handling the coffee they trade.” (50) They are the middleman between the exporter and the producer.
“ Giant multinational corporations such as Nestlé or Phillip Morris (owner of Kraft General Foods) have their own brokers. The huge buying and selling power of these corporations allows them to speculate and exercise great influence on the coffee exchanges.(50)
Then roasters distribute the coffee to the retailer, usually supermarkets or specialty coffee shops.
“Although you may find 15 to 20 brands of coffee on the supermarket shelf, the majority are owned by a few large multinationals.” (Waridel 53)
Finally, Coffee reaches us, the consumer.
“The fact that is drunk by almost everybody, makes coffee one of the world’s most valuable commodities and, as we have seen, gives big players in the coffee trade an enormous influence over the world market, and hence over the lives of producers in [those] countries.” (Waridel 56)
Coffee Price to Farmers Gresser, Charis and Sophia Tickell. “ Mugged: Poverty in Your Cup.” Oxfam International 2002:9
Gresser, Charis and Sophia Tickell. “Mugged: Poverty in Your Cup.” Oxfam International 2002: 24 The Real Profit Makers
What kind of waste is derived from the production and consumption of coffee?
“ A major source of river pollution is from the discharges of coffee processing plants. The process of separating the coffee bean from the coffee cherries produces “enormous volumes of waste material in the form of pulp, residual water and parchment.” (Rice and Roberts ch.4)
“ El Instituto Centroamericano de Investigacion y Technologia Industrial in Guatemala estimated that over six month period in 1988, “the processing of 547,000 tons of coffee in Central America generated 1.1 million tons of pulp and polluted 110,000 cubic meters of water per day, resulting in discharges to the region’s waterways equivalent to raw sewage dumping from a city of four million people.” (Rice and Roberts ch.4)
The ecological impact of these discharges of organic pollutants from processors into rivers results in taking oxygen from aquatic plant and wildlife, which is essential for life. (Rice and Roberts ch.4)
“According to Costa Rican government’s estimates from the early 1980s, coffee processing residues account for two-thirds of the total biochemical oxygen demand (the principal measure of organic pollutant discharges) in the country’s rivers. (Rice and Roberts ch.4)
Although we were unable to obtain information on the waste generated after the coffee beans have been brewed, it is fair to assume that it is not treated any differently that the pulp. That is, it is simply thrown away as garbage.
Along with the coffee grounds thrown away are chemicals that were absorbed in the coffee beans. We speculate they could end up anywhere from your drinking tap water to the ocean, after it has gone through the sewers.
Although technified coffee has been the panacea recommended by International lending associations and other “pro-development” agencies to develop economic growth in lesser developed countries, this type of coffee and its trade benefits only the big corporations and impoverishes the producer-countries involved in the trade.
In order to allow this countries and their communities to capture the production costs without suffering huge social, health, and environmental impacts, we as consumers must not keep our eyes closed to the impact we make when we buy a cup of coffee. In reality we support all these negative practices every time we buy coffee.
We can find many alternatives to support the communities in these countries if we only look for them. The simplest one of them is buying “Fair Trade Coffee,” which among other things, promotes fair prices for farmers and technical assistance to grow non-pesticide-produced coffee.
The choice is yours now that you know more about what is really involved in your cup of coffee, so what type of coffee will you buy?
Rice, Robert and Justin Ward. Coffee, Conservation, and Commerce in the Western Hemisphere How Individuals and Institutions Can Promote Ecologically Sound Farming and Forest Management in Northern Latin America. 1996 Smithsonian Bird Center and National Resource Defense Council. 20 Feb. 2003 <http://www.nrdc.org/health/farming/ccc/cptinx.asp>