I am just reading an interesting article in Cafe Europa by SCAE (Speciality Coffee Association of Europe) Executive Director Mick Wheeler on “Can we rescue the industry in producing countries and keep up the supply of great coffee” and we are discussing it amongst ourselves here in the office.
The question comes from a concern about where our future supplies of great coffee will come from. Worldwide demand continues to grow by 2% per annum, however supply is beginning to fall. So why is this happening and what are the possible implications?
1. In coffee producing countries factors such as population growth and urbanisation means coffee farms are taken out of production to provide for urban sprawl and increased food production for growing populations.
2. Worldwide consumers’ expectations are higher and they are demanding better quality, therefore increasing the demand for great coffee. We are not settling for any old coffee – we have become more discerning in our choices.
3. Emerging markets such as Russia and China have entered the marketplace increasing overall global demand.
4. Many coffee producing countries are now holding onto their own stock for domestic use. Previously this supply was exported. A good example is Brazil, one of the largest producing coffee nations in the world and their local consumption is expanding by approx 6-7 % annually – leaving less coffee for exportation.
5. There is a failure to attract young people into the industry, as they do not appear to be interested in subsistence farming. For example, the average age of coffee growers in Uganda is 58 years old.
6. Climate change, adverse weather conditions, environmental factors continue to affect crop supply. For example a current drought in Brazil, may reduce output to a 4 year low next year, A damaging fungus and above average rainfall that affects plants’ ability to flower may hamper next year’s crop for Columbia.
While we have seen substantial increases (30 – 40%) this year in coffee prices, these factors referenced here are inevitably catching up with us meaning speciality coffee prices will most likely continue to increase until the imbalance can be redressed. The industry requires continuous major investment in Research and Development along with the need to make the industry more appealing to young well educated professionals. The SCAE stresses that we must introduce greater technology at origin in an effort to attract the young into a modern dynamic industry. We can see this already in play with more and more origins involved in SCAE coffee championships, programmes such as Cup of Excellence and the World Barista Champions who travel worldwide to both learn and share their skills and knowledge.
It is most definitely an interesting time ahead for the coffee industry worldwide. Both Fairtrade and Ethically traded coffees have helped restore a commercial impetus to the industry but achieving a sustainable world coffee economy while continuing to supply quality produce is without doubt a challenge for the future.