Tropical Fruit, bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, marshmallow, maple syrup, cola, almond, barley, blueberry, plum, apricot, peach, coconut, papaya, kiwi, pineapple, star fruit, grapefruit, orange blossom, mint and ginger are some of the 110 flavors, aroma and texture traits according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) that can be found in coffee, all of these are meant to create a unique and exquisite experience to coffee lovers around the globe. But do consumers comprehend the vast ocean of uncertainty and struggle that coffee producers live day by day to make this happen?
My name is Juan Francisco Marquez. I am a third generation coffee grower from El Salvador. My life has been dedicated to providing guidance and consulting to local coffee farmers alongside my father in our family owned consultant company Lean Coffee Management.
There are over a dozen diseases and roughly ten major pests that are considered to provoke a negative economic impact with coffee plantations.
One of the most damaging diseases that has swept coffee farmers on a global scale is Hemileia vastatrix, otherwise known as Coffee Leaf Rust or “Roya” in the coffee farming world. Hemileia vastatrix is a fungus that causes coffee leaf rust (CLR), a disease that is devastating to Arabica coffee plantations. Coffee serves as the obligated host of coffee rust, that is, the rust must have access to and come into physical contact with coffee leaves in order to survive. There is no cure at the moment, although farms have managed to reduce their impact by replanting infected farms with genetically improved coffee varieties that have different combinations of resistant genes against rust in their DNA.
The problem that has now arisen is that these genetically improved coffee varieties, most of which have been supported through government programs, require different quality processes in order to provide good organoleptic traits, and very few have been researched in that area.
The other major player in coffee plantation stability is Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). This is a robust, recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centered over the mid-latitude Pacific basin. The PDO is detected as warm or cool surface waters in the Pacific Ocean, north of 20°N. Over the past century, the amplitude of this climate pattern has varied irregularly at interannual-to-interdecadal time scales (meaning time periods of a few years to as much as time periods of multiple decades).
Furthermore, Pacific Decadal Oscillation triggers either “La Niña” or “El Niño” phenomenon in the region which generate extreme weather conditions that coffee trees cannot handle. In order for coffee beans to grow, coffee plants must have certain specific amounts of rainfall at specific timing so that coffee flowers develop and self-pollination occurs.
If these initial conditions are met, coffee beans then need to be provided with sufficient and well-distributed rainfall over the course of 240 days. A well-integrated fertilization program that can counteract the many years of soil degradation that coffee lands have suffered. As if the uncertainty of weather conditions weren’t enough, coffee farmers have to deal with organized crime, lack of financial aid, political instability (in some cases), poor road infrastructure, lack of technical knowledge, and high costs of supplies. Continued broken sociocultural structure in the majority of coffee growing countries, has in some cases caused a lack of sufficient workforce for farmers.
To top things off, coffee producers have to face the biggest challenge of them all: The New York Board of Trade.
Supply, demand, and speculation are three simple words that determine the future of 125 million coffee drinkers worldwide.
In the U.S alone, the coffee industry generates an economic impact of $225.2 billion a year. The question becomes how much money do coffee producers make? According to the President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández the average price of a coffee cup in a city like New York is $5.00. On the other hand coffee producers roughly receive $0.02 out of each cup.
Is this Fairtrade? How can producers believe in this business? In the case of El Salvador, according to the “Consejo Salvadoreño del Café” statistics, in 1992 Salvadorian coffee industry generated 215,310 jobs per year, by the year 2015 it generated only 45,746.
Coffee farmers who still believe in this business simply won’t give up. Some try to integrate themselves vertically, by adding value to their coffee through Fairtrade initiatives. Direct trade or farm to roaster relationships are also becoming increasingly popular in order to supplement the loss of profit due to the control of the New York Stock Exchange.
Another major issue in some coffee regions is that farmers don’t have the environmental factors to provide high-quality beans. They simply have to remain hopeful that international coffee prices will rise to a level that can make it economically sustainable for them to continue. These type of farmers simply cannot give up because coffee farming has been part of their heritage. In most circumstances, family coffee farms are passed down to family members over generations. These farms as big or small as they are are the last line for a successful opportunity so abandoning the farms is not an option.
Government corruption is another factor that has crippled financing for coffee farmers. The amount of funds being donated from other Third Party Countries has little trickle-down effect. Mismanagement of allotted funding has also taken its toll in the last decade. Cooperates and research centers in El Salvador in remote locations for Mountain Farmers have been forced to shut down due to lack of continued funding. Even third-party missionary aid centers that have had the ability to distribute necessary goods and medicine to rural areas throughout Central America have fallen ill to corruption.
The new forefront of coffee plantation survival is beginning to move based on growing micro lots for the Speciality coffee world. Developing direct trade relationships with coffee buyers and moving towards bio sustainability with privately held companies.
I myself, have had the pleasure to work alongside Stone Temple Coffees with their research and development program for Coffee Leaf Rust Control. It is at the forefront of privately held interests for bio sustainability and direct trade relations with coffee farmers without the interference of government institutions that is bringing forth a more positive advancement in coffee farm management.
With the continued purchase support of Stone Temple Coffees product line, allows our company Lean Coffee Management to be able to develop new control techniques with finically supported bio-fertilizer applications. Therefore, leveling the playing field more for coffee farmers to fight back against invasive species and pests in the coffee farming industry.
This is why project initiatives from companies like Stone Temple Coffees make a big difference in our industry. They provide coffee producers with a fair and economically sustainable platform to passionate coffee farmers who won’t give up. So if your a coffee consumer, know that at the end of it all, the coffee farmers are relying on you to make the right choices.
Assistant Director/ Co-Owner
Lean Coffee Management, El Salvador