Around the globe, eighty percent of the coffee we drink is grown by twenty-five million smallholder farmers. For years, the price they have received for their coffee has been too low to cover household expenses and even the cost of production. In our industry this is known as the coffee price crisis and it has resulted in migration, child-labour and deforestation at an unimaginable scale.
Over the years, there have been countless initiatives aimed at solving the problem of low coffee prices. A complicating factor is that small-scale coffee farmers typically produce a semi-finished product that needs to undergo further processing prior to export. Existing social sustainability initiatives tend to focus on the price at which the finished product is exported, and do not provide transparency about the price received by the small-scale farmer, nor their ability to cover their cost of production and household expenses. Even in certified supply-chains, poverty is still omnipresent.
A HUMAN RIGHT
A living income is a human right (the International Labour Organisation has defined a living wage as a basic human right under their conventions and recommendations to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 23) but often one that remains out of sight in long, opaque supply-chains. In the specialty coffee sector, we tend to believe that because we pay a premium for higher-quality coffee on our end, the farmer earns more. But how sure are we that that is actually true? And how much more is enough? To answer these questions, we (Trabocca) decided to start tracking our farmers’ ability to earn a living income.
The group of farmers we selected for our first trial consisted of 278 small-scale producers in Guji, Ethiopia. Every year, the farmers deliver their freshly harvested coffee cherries for further processing to the Suke Quto washing station, one of our long-time suppliers. We introduced Fairfood’s traceability platform Trace to the supply-chain to track both the farmers’ deliveries and the payments they received. The platform allows us to provide insight about these transactions to our customers.