Fairtrade's work to safeguard the future of coffee

A coffee farmer inspecting a coffee bush

After already dropping below production costs, coffee prices have now reached historically low levels, threatening the livelihoods of millions and putting the future of one of the world’s most-loved commodities at risk.

In April, the global market price for coffee fell to USD $0.95 per pound, its lowest level since 2006. On the April 27, thousands of coffee farmers took to the streets in Colombia to draw attention to the extreme poverty caused by the continuing slump in coffee prices, while a week earlier, Latin American farmers attending the Specialty Coffee Expo (SCE) in Boston wore black ribbons, symbolically mourning the death of coffee farming in their communities.

The low price is already acknowledged as being below the sustainable cost of production for farmers. Rising costs and the challenges presented by climate change are resulting in lower productivity, placing huge pressure on more than 100 million people dependant on coffee, and has the potential to deepen the poverty already being experienced by farming families.

Farmers at SCE painted a grim picture: As incomes gradually reduce, they will be forced to make sacrifices such as taking children out of school and spending less on nutrition, leading to mounting health problems. These conditions could ultimately force farmers to go out of business and abandon their land, triggering mass migration within traditional coffee-growing regions.

Fairtrade has always advocated for sustainable pricing and now more than ever the safety net of the Fairtrade Minimum Price (currently $USD 1.40 per pound) is critical to the livelihoods of coffee farmers as well as the additional Fairtrade Premium (of $USD 0.20 per pound) that enables farmers to invest in their communities and businesses.

What else is Fairtrade doing to support coffee farmers?

Fairtrade is continuing to raise awareness at the appropriate industry forums to keep the issue of sustainable pricing on the radar.

The Fair Trade Advocacy office in Europe has been working diligently to raise the issue of Unfair Trade Practices with the EU as it relates to food commodities such as coffee. After a long process this is starting to yield results in the form of new legislation that is being drafted. This legislation could mean, for example, payment terms to coffee farmers being restricted to a maximum of 60 days instead of the 200-300 days some coffee roasters are demanding outside of Fairtrade.

Fairtrade International is working on the development of a coffee living income project with innovative tools to collect farm-level data, while the cost of sustainable production will also be assessed to aid improved decision-making about farm and family resource allocation.

It’s now more important than ever to support the system that looks after the people behind the products we all love. By choosing products carrying the Fairtrade Mark, you’re not only enjoying a great quality brew and safeguarding the future of coffee, you’re also helping to ensure farmers receive a fair price for coffee sold on Fairtrade terms, empowering them to make their own decisions, control their future and lead a more dignified life.