• Coffee has become a lifestyle accessory – presented as a luxury item, celebrated and it makes a great contribution to enjoyment. Especially the Germans are ready to spend a lot of money for their favorite coffee
  • But coffee is also a raw material – won in hard work from nature, often under miserable conditions
  • Coffee is also a commercial product whose value is only increased by the processing

A complex issues – not allowing any trivialization

There are many challenges in a sector as complex as coffee. To tackle and master them requires joint efforts that can achieve the best effect in a cooperative and coordinated manner.
To achieve this, the actors must talk to each other. As Hannah Arendt put it: truth is in dialogue!
This dialog is already running. But he always needs rooms and opportunities for continuation.
Brot für die Welt and Misereor had invited to a conference this week. Even though the coffee sector is associated with sustainability and certification like no other, the situation has deteriorated for millions of small farmers. The prices for green coffee have temporarily fallen below the production costs. Thomas R. Henschel moderated the conference.

The topics are many

  • It just leaves too much money for those who process coffee. It also includes those on board who end up selling the cup of coffee for $ 2-9.
    So it’s not money, it’s the distribution of money.
  • The future of coffee is also endangered. For why should a young generation find it attractive to work in a field that does not promise merit?
  • And as if that were not enough of the challenges, climate change acts as a power to these developments. It requires enormous investment and innovation in an area where profits remain everywhere, but not in the producing countries.

The symposium left room for controversy and the different perspectives of corporations, initiatives, roasters, certification agents, experts and also producers, among others by Gerado Alberto de León, managing director of FEDECOCAGUA, the association of coffee cooperatives in Guatemala, one of the first Coffee cooperatives that produce certified coffee for world trade.
Part of the progress in the coffee sector is that the actors can at least talk to each other – that the will to cooperate is palpable.

The north continues to rob the south of its prosperity

Nevertheless, there are still big differences between North and South. The South requires a dialogue at eye level and not donations and help. But overcoming colonial ways of thinking and acting falls further difficult for the north. The exploitation of raw material producers also documents a shocking injustice in the coffee sector. The profits are siphoned off in the north, the risks are imposed on the south. Certified coffee still accounts for only 4% of sales in Germany.
The state renounces to a large extent its control competence and restricts its activity essentially to development cooperation. Now ideas such as a waiver of VAT on certified coffee are discussed. That would make the “good” coffee cheaper. Sounds good at first, but at second glance, it is a risky step. Why should coffee be cheaper even if the greatest added value in the last few centimeters to the cup is generated. Even if the sales of certified coffee would then increase – how do you ensure that the additional profits actually arrive at the producers? And why should the state renounce a key management tool? It would also be conceivable that the tax revenues from the coffee sector are reinvested completely and without deductions for the development of a sustainable coffee trade. Then this area would not be available in Germany, the previous 350 million a year, but in one fell swoop would be added EUR 1 billion. And the state as an agent could make use of its control competence here. These questions will be discussed at the end of the month at a conference in Hamburg.

At our meeting, it was important for everyone involved to create concrete results. So Bread for the World, together with Misereor, will continue the subject. It has been shown that the entire sector still lacks the required transparency. True Price pointed out that internalizing external factors in the coffee price could be a sensible approach. Michael Opitz of the Naumann Foundation pleaded for a very critical and systematic reflection of the previous approaches. Too many unchecked assumptions underlie previous initiatives. So you have to work together and identify the approaches that are the most promising and not just continue the previous one. A recent study by Enveritas, led by CEO David Browning, highlighted the lack of knowledge and transparency in the coffee sector. The number of 25 million small farmers quoted time and again has, according to a brief research, no source. An imaginary number became an integral part of a narrative. Enveriats has conducted a comprehensive study in more than 20 countries, using valid mathematical models and comes to a comprehensible number of approximately 12.5 million coffee farms. For the first time, robust numbers are now available. Such validity will benefit the coffee sector in the future.

How are the big ones reacting?

Another topic is the big companies. Nestlé and Tschibo confronted the discourse in Hamburg. But they send their public relations or social responsibility staff. It would be more important to talk to the buyers and not simply leave this to the internal processes. But the companies, which have a significant influence on the market as actors, are threatened by inconvenience from the other side. In Switzerland, the issue of extended corporate liability will be the subject of a referendum in a few weeks’ time. Rightly fighting for producers’ rights will increase the pressure on global companies. This will also put the issue of basically private certification once again to the test. At the same time, there is the opportunity to work with civil society NGOs on solutions that facilitate fair trade.

The way the coffee sector operates its trade is and remains outrageous. In 1975, a farmer with 4 sacks of coffee beans could feed his family. Today he needs 34 sacks for it. Without a radical rethink, we will not achieve any change for the better in this area. Of course, in the end, consumers are also required, who take part in every purchase decision.
The topic is complex. It refuses trivializing approaches and blaming. All actors are encouraged to continue working and to strengthen cooperation. Even if they speak of the same, they still do not understand each other. As mediators, we remain advised to mediate the processes of cooperation.

In any case, further concrete steps were decided in Hamburg. Bread for the world will continue to promote the topic and a number of concrete collaborations between some players have emerged. All this will not (yet) lead to the necessary turnaround. But it may be optimistic that so many people are working together to bring more justice to this sector of world trade.