The COVID-19 pandemic is a true global health crisis that deserves all the attention and sacrifice it is receiving worldwide. However, the rapid emergence of this global crisis does not make the coffee price crisis disappear. For many people and companies, it just puts her out of the focus area.
As growers sell their current coffee crops, the New York “C” price continues to bounce between $ 1.00 and $ 1.25 per pound. Clearly, the coffee price crisis is still in full effect, and continued speculation in the commodity markets will ensure that this crisis continues or even worsens.
According to a webinar by the importer: Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers, coffee consumers encounter difficulties as jobs disappear and incomes decline, while coffee shops struggle as closings and social distancing erases local demand. As the world is quarantined, people will continue to drink coffee; they just won’t spend that much money on it.
When the world comes out of this health crisis, most of the focus will be on the concerns of local economies, such as restoring jobs, reopening schools, and replenishing savings.
Meanwhile, people will continue to drink coffee. They simply will not have the emotional or economic energy to ask whether coffee producers are paid. Looking directly at the economic challenges of others is difficult when the economic foundations themselves are uncertain.
Therefore, most of the world’s coffee producers, who started 2020 in vulnerable economic positions, will come out of another harvest season lagging behind. When they look to the support networks they had in 2019, they may find that many are busy with other pressing issues.
For the past 18 months, we have been able to stimulate and hold conversations and initiatives focused on the coffee price crisis. Although there are few tangible indicators of progress, these collective efforts were creating potential for significant change.
We are very concerned that the current pandemic exhausts the collective interest in paying producers adequately for their coffees, and that the markets for basic products or “commodities” continue to ensure that we do not have to. Because of this, the people who grow our coffees will not recover from the effects of the current health crisis or the numerous coffee price crises that have been going on for generations. Instead, they will face more difficulties and few alternatives.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then the opposite must also be true. Injustice is only visible to those who watch it. And make no mistake, the way we structure coffee supply chains and compensate coffee farmers is unfair. This is clear to those who have been paying attention.
The COVID-19 health crisis has understandably focused attention on people in traditional coffee-consuming countries in their own homes and surrounding communities. The question remains, will enough people continue to look at the big picture of the coffee industry to sustain significant change?
We are writing this to say that we will continue to drink coffee and continue to pay attention.
Peter Roberts and Chad Trewick
Peter Roberts and Chad Trewick lead the Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide efforts. Peter is the Emory University professor who founded Transparent Trade Coffee and Grounds for Empowerment. Chad has worked for more than 25 years in specialty coffee and now leads Reciprocafé LLC, a consultancy prioritizing mutual benefit throughout the coffee industry.