Ethiopian Coffee Farmers: Tasting the bitterness of injustice
With 8 million cups of coffee consumed every day worldwide, one would assume that the second most traded commodity in the world that ranks even above gold, sugar and cotton, would provide a stable and flourishing economy for those who farm the produce. Despite being worth over $140 billion to the companies that export and brand it, Ethiopian farmers are being paid an estimated 0.1% of the trade value per kilo.
With the Ethiopian government’s new enterprise of the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange (ECX) now entering its fourth year, many western boutique and co-operative buyers that are built on a ‘direct trade’ and ‘single origin’ ethos are worried that growers are not receiving a fair price for the coffee they produce. The ECX was designed to ensure the quality of coffee beans that are sold and to verify their regional origin, as well as to ensure that no trade occurs without the government’s knowledge and approval. However, many traders feel that by preventing small independent stations from trading coffee freely, it reduces the ‘traceability’ of the beans, and removes the relationship between farmers and traders.
Until its collapse in 1989, the International Coffee Agreement monitored and controlled coffee trade, ensuring that coffee beans were sold for over $100/lb., but for the 1990s that marked a dramatic downturn until hitting an all-time low price of $41/lb. in 2004. Ethiopia also faced economic struggles with one of its main investors, Nestlé, in 2002, when they demanded a $6 million pay-out from the country. The multibillion pound company was forced to back down after thousands of consumers protested that demands should be made of a country where 11 million people would potentially face famine as a result.
With 70% of the world’s coffee being produced in 25 million poverty-stricken farms, it is hard to see how we the consumers can do anything to change the trade value of the beans. In the current economic climate many of us are reluctant to buy the higher priced cooperative coffee rather than a supermarket value instant. However, these cooperative brands are essential for raising the trade value of coffee beans and ensuring the money goes to the pockets of those who worked to grow it. Raising awareness is the key to attaining justice, and as consumers of coffee we should make every effort to ensure that we are not supporting the extortion and degradation of those who work hard to produce it.