COFFEE PRODUCERS HAVING THEIR SAY

Amy Oroko, Sustainability Manager

The results of our Annual Producer Survey are in

It will come as little surprise to learn that meeting face-to-face with coffee farmers has been somewhat challenging for us over the past couple of years. COVID-19, lockdowns and travel restrictions have meant that we have not been able to make the journeys to origin that are so important to us.

Although we may not have been able to meet the people who are the bedrock of our supply chains in person, we have still been listening to their concerns. First implemented in 2015, our ‘Annual Producer Survey,’ is one way in which we can learn about and monitor the progress of the sustainability challenges faced by producers.

As well as collecting updated data that paints a clear picture of who our suppliers are (no. of farmers, certifications, area of land, exported volume, etc), our Sustainability Team designed the survey using the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework.

It therefore considers the economic, human, environmental, physical and social challenges that farmers and their organisations face. This ensures that we think about the sustainability of our supply chains in a holistic sense.

More recently we added a section looking specifically at the impacts of COVID-19. Using this structure, we collect data on the perception that the organisations have on specific issues within these six categories.

The results of this year’s Survey are in, and we thought we would share some of the key findings with you.

Image: School Kids, Ngelle Gorbitu, Ethiopia

Economic

After compiling all of the responses, it was clear to see that our suppliers were consistently ranking economic challenges as the most significant ones they are currently facing.

Although coffee prices continue to trend well above the Fairtrade Minimum Price, the rising cost of production is squeezing the profitability of farms.

Of the suppliers we surveyed, it was the expense associated with seasonal farm labour that stood out as the greatest challenge. Often even relatively small-scale farmers or producer organisations require seasonal labour to help with picking coffee cherries during the harvest, or with processing the cherries before they are sent to the UK.

It is particularly crucial in this context that every stakeholder, ourselves included, within the coffee value chain plays their part in paying a fair price for the coffee they buy.

Environmental

Following closely behind the economic challenges are those associated with the environment. Every year that we have conducted the survey, suppliers have listed 'climate change reducing productivity on farms' as a highly significant challenge.

Complementary to this, the results this year also show that farmers need greater access to more resilient varieties of coffee. It is these more resilient varieties that will help to future proof their farms in the face of a changing climate.

This is why our commitment to sustainability remains at the forefront of our minds. Not only will we take further action to reduce our own impact on the environment (more news on our ambitious future targets is on its way soon), but we will continue to support suppliers as they adapt to climate change and in their efforts to farm sustainably.

Human

In Central America, a particular challenge that was highlighted was the movement of labour. The survey shows a high level of urban migration by those seeking economic opportunities and seasonal migration resulting in labour shortages.

This where certifications such as Fairtrade can make a significant impact. The Fairtrade premiums that it provides farmers with, can help them to afford paying for seasonal labour and make coffee farming a more economically attractive opportunity.

Jose Francisco Villeda, a founding member of the Capucas cooperative in Honduras, said he used the Fairtrade premium, “for improvements and expansions in my coffee farm, with the purchase of inputs, living rooms and the payment of my workers, maintenance of my productive processing area, to pay towards the academic training of my 3 children.”

Image: Capucas Cooperative, Honduras, 2020

Social

When looking at an average of all responses for the different regions across the globe, the social challenges they face were often not seen as priority.

This cannot be said for Africa. The data shows that a challenge of key concern is the fact that households here often have many children to take care of.

Cooperatives that have achieved Fairtrade certification have the minimum price and premium to help tackle some of these challenges.

For example, the Ankole Coffee Producers’ Cooperative Union in Uganda has used the Fairtrade premium to invest in building schools for rural coffee growing communities amongst other things.

When looking at an average of responses for the different regions across the globe, the social challenges were often not seen as a priority. This cannot be said for Africa. The data shows that a challenge of key concern is that households here often have many children to take care of.

Cooperatives that have achieved Fairtrade certification have the minimum price and premium to help tackle challenges like this one.

For example, the Ankole Coffee Producers’ Cooperative Union in Uganda has used the Fairtrade premium to invest in building schools for rural coffee growing communities amongst other things.

Peninah Atukunda who works for the cooperative said, “through Fairtrade, farmers have constructed permanent houses from temporary ones, educated their children, increased production from approximately 2 bags to 7 bags, thus increasing household income.”

Physical

Again, it is in Africa where the Physical challenges are proving to be greater obstacles than in other regions of the globe. There is a myriad of infrastructural challenges, including access to farms by roads and access to a reliable water supply.

In Latin America, meanwhile, transportation of the coffee to customers taking longer than expected was cited as key issue, with delays at ports proving especially challenging.

COVID-19

Our everyday lives seem to be settling back into their pre-COVID routines. For many of our suppliers, however, the impacts are still posing significant challenge. In Latin America, our suppliers highlighted that travel restrictions associated with COVID-19 have been a significant barrier to them. For example, they have been unable to travel to meet with buyers and it has affected their ability to carry out farmer training.

Outside of the fairtrade premium and minimum price processes, Fairtrade has supported producers through the pandemic through their COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund.

In Latin America over 320 producer organisations in 10 countries received funding support. Funds were used to cover increased production costs that arose due to implementation of safety protocols, or to provide food supplies to communities in quarantine.

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What do the results mean for us?

Having this kind of feedback from producers is invaluable. It helps us to assess the sustainability challenges in our supply chains and consider how we can make our sourcing more beneficial for people and planet.

We remain committed to buying coffee with certifications such as Fairtrade as well as investing in partnership programmes to support improvements at origin. Keep your eyes peeled for more details of the latest projects we will be launching based on the results of this year’s survey.

Amy Oroko

Sustainability Manager at Matthew Algie

Amy studied Economics & International Development at the University of Bath and gained experience working in development consulting in Malawi and rural Scotland, before moving into a sustainability role at Matthew Algie in 2014.

As Sustainability Manager, Amy is responsible for coordinating the company’s approach to sustainability, including our strategy, projects and internal and external communications in relation to sustainable sourcing, reducing our environmental impact, investing in our employees, and, engaging with our community.

Over the last few years she has launched our inaugural Sustainability 5 Year Plan, implemented several supply chain collaborations with coffee cooperatives and helped us to achieve One Carbon World’s Carbon Neutral International Standard.