Environmental sustainability is probably the most pressing issue facing the world today. Agriculture drives 80 percent of tropical deforestation and coffee farming requires huge amounts of resources. In addition, consumers drink more than 2.25 billion cups of coffee per day which makes coffee one of the most traded products globally. With an increasing demand for coffee, more and more retailers and consumers are demanding traceable information on coffee origins – they want to know if their coffee is grown sustainably. In this article we are going to look at ways sustainable coffee could benefit the world and make the supply chain more resilient.
1. Planting more trees can help
Coffee is one of the major agricultural export commodities of many Latin American, African, and Southeast Asian countries – it is estimated that around 80 percent of the coffee sold worldwide is grown on farms smaller than 2 hectares. Yet the sector is facing huge challenges as the current farming methods and processing infrastructure have been unsustainable resulting in many catastrophic impacts on the environment. Sadly, 60 percent of all coffee species could disappear in a few decades due to worsening climate conditions, deforestation and the spread of various pathogens and pesticides.
Like with many environmental issues, better respect for trees could provide the answer to saving coffee. Planting trees not only offsets harmful carbon emission but also helps restore and preserve coffee ecosystems. Trees enrich the soil and prevent degradation. Furthermore, taller trees help protect coffee plants from unpredictable weather patterns, such as drought or heavy rains, thus the coffee quality remains unchanged.
2. Higher wages and improved farming techniques
125 million households are reliant on coffee for their livelihoods. However, many of them are unable to earn a reliable living from the coffee they produce. Poverty among smallholder farmers is widespread and, in most countries, even higher than the national poverty threshold.
Graph from The Economic Lives of Smallholder Farmers by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Another issue is that coffee growers are dependent on the price of the raw product on the world market. In the past, significant coffee price drops put many small farmers out of business.
There are non-profit organisations and big corporates that put a great amount of efforts into helping farmers to live a life above the poverty line. For instance, there is an ongoing soil and water conservation programme for coffee growers in the Philippines which is extremely beneficial throughout the drier months of the year. The programme educates farmers and teaches them to grow other plants as secondary crops that can provide extra income.
There are also projects that focus on offering microfinancing schemes, improving public health and water supply that result in increased income and poverty reduction.
3. Promoting equal rights
While the word “farmer” may bring the images of sturdy men working in the fields, women also contribute significantly to the global coffee sector. However, very often women coffee growers are not given the chance to be leaders within the industry, even though 70 percent of labour in the coffee production is provided by women. In addition, there is a discrimination against women as they work the same hours as men but earn less.
Photo by jcomp/Freepik.com
Fostering women empowerment and achieving gender equality in the coffee farming industry is crucial for higher economic outcomes and long-term sustainability of coffee supply. Public policies, services and special programmes train women to become farm leaders. They are taught everything from coffee production to leadership and health education and the knowledge is thus transferred onto wider communities.
4. Providing with a better equipment
Many coffee producing farmers and labourers work under extremely poor conditions. Coffee farm workers are involved with the growing and harvesting process which includes weeding, spraying, picking, and weighing the coffee fruit. People are exposed to many risks such as pesticides, snakes and insects that all can do harm. In addition, workers can get injured in the factories from contact with machinery or get respiratory diseases due to dusts.
The above-mentioned issues can be decreased and avoided if the coffee farm workers are provided with protective gear – rubber or woolen gloves, boots, light coats, hats and masks. Consequently, this leads to improved labourer’s wellbeing and better coffee production.
5. Avoiding single-use cups and coffee capsules
Many people have heard it before but there is a need to remind this one more time - single-use cups and coffee capsules are possibly the one aspect of coffee that has the most detrimental impact on the environment. Consumers use an average of 600 billion plastic cups per year worldwide. Most of these cups cannot be recycled and end up in landfills.
Photo by Kous9/Unsplash.com
What is more, one coffee producing company produced 10 billion coffee capsules. It is estimated that this number of capsules would wrap a staggering 10.5 times around the globe. These plastic coffee capsules are incredibly unsustainable products as they mostly end up in landfills. Therefore, they should be avoided at all costs except if they are reusable or made of biodegradable materials.
A simple way to reduce single-use cups is to use a mug. This habit is much more eco-friendly as it does not contribute to landfill crowding.