Coffee is grown on about 12.5 million farms across the “bean belt” – a band of land on either side of the equator with suitable climate and soil conditions spanning more than 50 countries.
Roughly 95% of coffee farms are smaller than 5 hectares, or 7 football pitches. These small farms produce about three-quarters of the world’s coffee. The remaining quarter is produced by large coffee estates. Fairtrade works with smallholder coffee.
Though they produce significant volumes, smallholders have little negotiating power in coffee supply chains that are dominated by large roasters and traders. Just five coffee traders controlled half of global green coffee in 2019, while more than a third of the world’s coffee was roasted by the top 10 roasters.
Coffee prices are extremely volatile. In 2016-2019, falling coffee prices thrust more coffee farmers into poverty. More recently, coffee farmers have struggled with rising production costs and erratic weather patterns such as frost in South America.
Most jobs at coffee farms are seasonal, informal, paid by day and pay less than living wages. Smallholder families do most farm work themselves but many coffee plantations employ large workforces.
The search for suitable land for coffee production, spurred by climate change, is causing deforestation and biodiversity loss. Wet coffee processing, the most popular processing technique, requires large amounts of water and can pollute waterways.
Coffee production may contribute to global warming through the use of nitrogen fertilizers, deforestation, emissions from soils, pruning, wastewater and crop residues decomposing on the ground.
While women head 20-30% of coffee-producing households, they typically have less access to land, inputs, credit and training. Women workers on coffee farms hold fewer permanent contracts and do lower-paid tasks.
The economic insecurity resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic has increased concerns about child labour and child rights in coffee-producing areas.
Value distribution: The above risks are rooted in unfair distribution of value. Most of the gains are captured by roasters, retailers and traders who yield most power over the price and terms of trade. Farmers fear that the growing consolidation of the global coffee industry will fuel greater price pressure.
Climate change: In many regions, coffee farmers are facing increasing water scarcity, extreme weather events, pests and plant diseases that reduce coffee yields and lower farmers’ livelihoods.
of all coffee is produced in smallholder farms
million metric tonnes
23 January 2023
metric tonnes, 2021
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