If You Love Coffee… You Can Help Eradicate Poverty

Every day Americans enjoy more than 580 million cups of coffee, while worldwide, more than 3 billion cups are consumed. Coffee is produced by more than 26 million growers, with over 250 million people in coffee producing countries depending directly or indirectly on coffee production for their daily survival. Sadly, most of them live in poverty or in extreme poverty

Without the daily struggle of the growers and their families there would be no beans for the coffee enjoyed daily by one billion coffee lovers around the world.

In the last three years drought and crop pests like coffee rust have caused losses worth billions of dollars to coffee farmers in Latin America alone. According to the World Food Program, 2.8 million people in Central America now need emergency food aid. A third are directly dependent on coffee, the remainder on other forms of subsistence agriculture prone to severe drought.

In recent years the coffee crisis and climate change in Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America have driven tens of thousands of people to attempt to cross the US border illegally in search of opportunity as a result of the economic hardship in their home countries.

Climate change is affecting coffee plantations and farmers on all continents. Blights like coffee rust have a devastating impact on farmers because few have the means to prevent or control them. They don’t have comprehensive crop insurance either. In coffee, the largest risks are incurred for those at the bottom of the value chain.

The global coffee industry has a retail value of more than US$175 billion yet most of the quarter of a billion people who depend -directly or indirectly- on coffee production live in poverty, sometimes extreme. This is unacceptable for an industry whose profits in industrialized countries reach tens of billions every year, particularly when considering what the consumer pays for each cup or capsule.

Coffee culture is now global, and has even started to blossom in India and China, the world’s largest tea drinking nations. Coffee shops, coffee kiosks and even single serve coffee machines are making inroads into what was once considered exclusively “tea territory”.

The living conditions of coffee growers and their families in no way reflect the economic boom of the coffee industry. Economic and social development indicators like infant mortality, education, family income, housing or running water show coffee regions have drawn very little benefit from the commodity’s global success. The business model of the coffee industry is exploitative.

The coffee taken by Michelle Obama -President Obama drinks more tea – contributes less than one cent per cup to the eradication of poverty in coffee regions. The same goes for the coffee drunk by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary John Kerry and everyone else on Capitol Hill. This is important because it reflects that politicians ignore the exploitative conditions under which their coffee was produced despite all their talk about eradication of poverty, fighting inequality and achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

While George Clooney sells you coffee capsules at “only” $0.60 per capsule, the multibillion dollar coffee business Nespresso he represents has shown scant regard for the hardships that coffee farmers and their families face on a daily basis. Nespresso and its parent Nestle dedicate only a small fraction of each capsule to improving the lives of the millions of coffee farmers on whose shoulders the brand was built. Nespresso’s 6-year $550 million AAA program is not good enough if coffee farmers are to be treated as partners rather than slaves.

KEURIG GREEN MOUNTAIN INC is a huge success story, winning over US consumers despite glamorous George, conquering the homes of more than 20 million Americans. In the last 3 years Keurig has returned about $2.5 billion to Wall St. investors via share repurchases and dividends. Its impact in improving the conditions of suppliers in the coffee regions is far less impressive.

The top coffee traders – key players in the value chain – are largely unknown to the consumer but also accumulate billions in profits. They include Neumann, Volcafe, EcomTrading, Cargill and Olam. Coffee roasters like Nestle, Sara Lee, Starbucks, Mondelez, Smucker, Lavazza, Illy and Tschibo also net high margins, and impressive profits thanks to the low prices paid for green coffee. Likewise coffee shop chains including Starbucks, Dunking Donuts, Costa Coffee, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Glorias Jean’s, Caribou Coffee, Tim Hortons, Peet’s Coffee, as well as fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King.

While the rest of the coffee chain takes the lion’s share of coffee profits, coffee farm workers receive an insignificant fraction of the benefits that their daily work generates.

I believe responsible coffee lovers would prefer to enjoy their coffee in partnership with those who grow it. I am proposing a compensation of only 10 cents from each cup of coffee sold in the industrialized world to help eradicate poverty in all coffee growing regions in one generation.

I am certain most consumers including: Mrs. Obama, VP Biden, Secretary Kerry, Speaker Boehner and all members of Congress, can afford those #10CentsPerCup. I am also certain that Howard Schultz’s admirable promise to bring higher education to all Starbucks’ partners who want it should be extended to the children in coffee regions. There is no excuse for the tens of millions of them who do not attend school or even eat proper meals.

I am creating CAFÉ FOR CHANGE to bring together coffee lovers who want to make this change happen every time we enjoy coffee.

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