While climate change has been happening for years, we are beginning to see it more and more frequently these days. On July 20th, 2021 Brazil got frost! I am sure we all are familiar with the climate in Brazil, mainly being tropical with average temperatures ranging from 21 degrees Celsius to 27 degrees Celsius. Frost would not only be a shock to the entire country but damaging to their agriculture industry.
The coffee farming industry specifically was hit hard with the surprise of frost on their coffee trees on the morning of July 20th. Can you imagine lounging on the beach in Brazil while on vacation and the next morning waking up to frost on the ground - that wouldn’t seem right? Right? On July 20th, 2021 thousands of Brazilian coffee farmers woke up to their coffee trees frozen and damaged from the unusual temperature drop.
Very specific climate and environmental conditions are needed for coffee bean plants to grow and thrive. Coffee bean plants are grown in the “Bean Belt”, which is between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. This area stretches from the Eastern border to Mexico to the shores of New Guinea, including places like Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Here in the prairies, we are used to unusually bad weather, whether it's floods or extreme droughts, like what we are experiencing this year.
Brazil is the largest coffee producer in the world, they are responsible for around one-third of all the coffee in the world. Around one-tenth of the area in Brazil was hit and damaged by frost, and the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) is expecting coffee prices to stay high for the next two to three years. Imagine the impact that frost has on the world's largest coffee producer. Climate change once again showing up and destroying the lives of many coffee producers who are already broken and shackled by years of low coffee prices. On top of already getting underpaid for their coffee and facing predatory lending of up to 70%, climate change adds an extra punch.
Can you even begin to imagine how devastating this frost is to coffee producers whose livelihood depends on the yield of their crop? The frost not only damaged their crops, but coffee farmers are now scrambling to recover and find ways to save and make money to support themselves and their families. Each coffee bean that a tree produces is like a diamond to these coffee farmers because their livelihood is dependent on the success of each crop. As a result of the frost, they have had to remove all of the trees that were damaged.
Sadly, coffee farmers being taken advantage of and getting paid low coffee prices is already happening in the coffee industry. Coffee farmers are often paid below their cost of goods, making them indebted to the middlemen that take advantage of them. As sad as this frost disaster is, let’s see it as an opportunity to raise the bar and pay our farmers fairly. We need to make it known why coffee prices need to reflect the level of risk and hardship that it takes to produce that precious cup. Every day a coffee farmer's livelihood depends on their crop, which is so often taken for granted.
At Road Coffee, we have learned about the systemic injustices and have seen it first-hand from smallholder coffee farmers. To us, at Road Coffee, it is more than just a cup of coffee. Through our BeyondFair program we are working to pay farmers fairly, and directly, open new markets for them to sell their coffee, and empower sustainable farming practices.
Importers get paid the majority of the money instead of the coffee farmers who do all the work. At Road Coffee, we directly source our coffee beans from smallholder farmers which removes these unnecessary middlemen from the supply chain. We also help farmers gain access to new markets to sell their coffee. Some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown in countries previously untapped. For example, we are one of the first coffee roasters to source coffee from Laos. In doing so we pay our coffee farmers directly and fairly, allowing them and their employees to make a living wage and gain financial freedom for their families and communities.
Our micro-loans are another way we can unshackle coffee farmers. Interest rates of up to 70% make it very challenging for coffee farmers to access loans for necessary inputs. Through our microfinance program, we have been able to impact 11 different coffee farmers and their families. As a result, our coffee farmers have seen an average increase of 25 cents per pound in their crop value because of the micro-loan investment into their land.
At Road Coffee, it is more than a cup of coffee. While we are unable to prevent the conditions of climate change, we are working at making a change in the coffee industry. We pay our coffee farmers fairly and directly, enabling them to gain financial freedom for their families and communities. Farmers can access loans through our microfinance program and sell their coffee to new markets. Now is the time to educate and understand why coffee prices need to reflect the level of risk and hardship that it takes to produce each cup of coffee. We must raise the bar and educate the world, otherwise, coffee farms and coffee farmers will perish, and specialty coffee will be a delight of the past.