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Member countries in the World Coffee Producers Forum have appealed to roasters and plan to appeal direct to consumers to help them address the issue of low prices which, they say, needs attention immediately.

At a meeting in London on 17 September 2018, held prior to the next meeting of the International Coffee Organization, representatives of producer associations from Colombia, Brazil, India, Africa and Central America all said the current situation in the market, with the ‘C’ Price in New York below 100 cents, was unsustainable and was causing untold damage to coffee farmers and their families.

Together, the producer associations are working on a plan to work with the private sector to address the issue.

They plan to use social media to appeal direct to consumers and have appointed an agency to help design a campaign do so.

They are also working on a certification scheme that would recognise roasters who are prepared to pay more for the coffee they grow, but do not seem to be considering withholding stocks in an effort to drive prices up, at least at present. They did say however that in some countries farmers have left coffee cherries unharvested because it is not economic for them harvest them.

In the short-term, what is urgently needed is more money and better prices, they said. The short-term is ‘now’ they said and ‘yesterday’.

Association after association from country after country reiterated the immense damage that low prices are doing to coffee farmers and, potentially, in the long-term, to the coffee industry as a whole.

The cost of production varies widely between countries and within countries, but all of the associations argued that the current prices are unsustainable for everyone.

The coffee producers’ forum, which first met in Colombia in 2017, wants to initiate a dialogue with the rest of the coffee supply chain and work collaboratively with roasters who are willing to support farmers. It is planning to hold meetings with leading roasters in the coming weeks.

The members of the forum would like roasters to commit to paying a price that – at a bare minimum – would cover the cost of production, which the current price does not. If they do not, said one, there could be ‘a crisis beyond imagining’ that will affect the entire coffee sector and lead to migration from producing countries and see farmers who cannot make money from coffee turning to production of illicit crops.

Country after country highlighted their concerns that low prices are causing economic damage and that social issues are growing as a result.

“People are starving and the fortunes of the industry are at risk,” said a representative of one producer association. “Immediate action is needed,” said another. Another highlighted the fact that as farmers and their families leave coffee or turn to other crops, roasters “are making good profits.”

“Farmers are suffering, but roasters are doing well,” said a representative of a leading producing country. “Perhaps while that is the case, we should see the situation as an opportunity, and appeal to them to pay a price that at least covers production.”

Representatives of the National Coffee Association in the US and the Specialty Coffee Association also attended the meeting and spoke in support of farmer associations, although they differ about what mechanisms might best be used to address the situation.

For more on this issue, see the November 2018 issue of Coffee & Cocoa International.

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