End humanitarian crisis in the coffee industry

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“When the price is good, we have work, but when it isn’t, we have no money to pay the rent, no money for food, no money for the doctor,” said Angela Poló Gámez, a coffee picker from Guatemala, to The Wall Street Journal. Due to the extremely low market rate for coffee, Angela and her husband Eustolio García left their farm and joined a migrant caravan heading to the U.S. in search for work.

We are in the middle of a coffee price crisis that’s impacting million of families around the world whose livelihoods depend on coffee farming. In May of this year, the price of arabica beans fell to a 14-year low of around 90 cents a pound on the Intercontinental Exchange. Coffee farmers are losing money and being driven deeper into debt with every sale, even as many of them sell their coffee beans to some of the world’s best-known specialty coffee brands. Communities are going hungry.

If you’re looking at your $5-6 latte and thinking this doesn’t add up, you’re right. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that the price of specialty coffee purchased at retail rose last year to $23.87 a pound, even as the composite price for green coffee purchased from farmers fell to less than $1 a pound.  

It can’t go on like this. It won’t. Unless farmers start receiving fair prices for their coffee, the human, environmental, and economic damage will only get worse. More and more farmers will leave their farms in search of more stable livelihoods for their families.

Even though the market has failed them, we will not. While we ultimately want systemic change for a deeply-broken coffee industry, we can spur that along by purchasing coffee that provides stability for producers in desperate times like these.

So far, fair trade is the only mainstream model that guarantees a minimum price for coffee producers (at least $1.40/lb and 30 cents more for organic). Tell coffee companies it’s unacceptable to only pay fair prices when it’s convenient and blame the market when it’s not. At the very least, we want all coffee companies to take responsibility for their role in ending this crisis by committing to minimum prices, and we want coffee that’s not driving farmers into poverty. Simple as that.