The Politics of Coffee
Any adventure seeker who makes the journey through Northern Peru’s treacherous conditions will find the Guzman family’s 60-acre coffee bean farm.
Buyers from all over North America venture to countries in South America to hand select some of the world’s finest beans, and then distribute and sell them in the United States.
And it’s worth the buyer’s trek—the U.S. consumes more coffee than any other country in the world.
Americans drink an average of 400 million cups of coffee a day, supporting the notion that we are a population of people with a passion and addiction that is short on sleep.
The world of coffee is an $80 billion dollar industry with 1.6 billion coffee drinkers worldwide.
While 86 percent of coffee drinkers make their morning cups at home, many do not realize the bean’s journey to that morning coffee cup, and the politics around it.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has proved that coffee is a valuable commodity by earning profits of $1 billion in 2010 by brewing beans from around the world, according to Starbuck’s annual report.
In just New York City alone, there are currently 182 Starbucks within a mere 7-mile radius.
While Brazil accounts for 40 percent of bean production, many buyers from cafes like places in Washington State have been flocking to Peru.
Farming coffee beans is extremely labor intensive. The conditions many farmers work in are not up to current safety codes.
The families who sell coffee beans to companies in the U.S., like the Guzman’s, are not the ones making the money—the buyer’s are, which many human rights organizations deem unfair.
The Guzman’s 60-acre farm is their only source of income; they currently take in a net equivalent of $6,500 American dollars each year.
Buyers from cafes in the states after shipping, stocking and overhead fees usually sell a pound of beans for around $14 a pound— that’s more than quadruple the amount they purchased the beans for in South America.
The politics of coffee have remained controversial over decades, and for just this reason, a “Fair Trade Act” was established.
The new movement supports producers like the Guzmans in Peru to sustain improved trading conditions, and promote higher payment to farmers.
While all of the coffee grown on the planet lays 1,500 miles south of the equator, American’s still make up the largest number of consumers of coffee beans.
The Fair Trade Act has its challenges, because corporations like Starbucks assert that the families farming the beans are being compensated substantial amounts in their respective countries.
Besides the negative challenges of importing coffees, many positive outcomes derive from the bean health wise.
The Harvard School of Public Health reported that moderate long-term drinking could actually help to reduce diseases such as diabetes.
With its stimulating effects and habit-forming tendencies, the FDA says that the caffeine in coffee is considered the safest legal drug.
There are currently more than 22,000 coffee shops in the U.S., making the quest to find the perfect cup pretty simple.
While the ease of finding a cup may be easy, the politics behind every cup still has its issues.
With the larger corporations like Starbuck’s, trade quality, exploitable labor and competition with independent businesses has displayed the importance of gaining capital over ensuring that all fair trade policies are met.
With the rise of coffee’s popularity, one might suspect that the price being paid to farmers for coffee beans has risen, since the demand for the product has increased. Not so.
While coffee consumption has rocketed up in the last five years by more than 700%, the price paid to growers for raw coffee beans has dropped from three dollars a pound to less than 50 cents a pound.
While eyebrows should be raised over the unfair price exchange, agricultural industries like “TransFair USA” is trying to keep Fair Trade in effect by keeping its eyes on coffee-growing practices.
Coffee today remains the second most heavily traded commodity after the stuff we pump into our car’s gas tank. Sustainability is an increasingly big concern.
Despite the politics, coffee is one hot commodity.
Reach reporter Katherine Harwood here.