A matter of opinion: coffee

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Eduardo Florez of the Colombian Coffee Company on his ethical approach to buying coffee

Eduardo FlorezCoffee prices on the open market are very volatile, but on average coffee farmers receive well below $2 dollars per pound. The beans they grow are in constant demand around the world, but coffee farmers in Colombia get less for a pound of coffee than you’d pay for a cup. We are trying to correct that unfairness.

One of the economic forces that push prices down is the power of the intermediaries who buy coffee from the farmers cheaply and then sell it on to big companies at a profit. In that marketplace, where there is huge demand for cheap coffee blends, farmers have no incentive to focus on producing one, high quality variety.

With our project, we are encouraging the farmers not to blend their coffees, and to value their product. It is a win-win relationship: they get paid much more money, and our customers have the chance to try single origin varieties and taste their beautiful, unique flavours.

Displaced families
Colombia has many displaced families because of the ongoing civil conflict, and there is a lot of poverty. If coffee prices don’t increase, that poverty will always be there.

We are teaching farmers to value their coffee, to base their prices on the real production cost. For the first time, they are able to consider things like holidays, clothes, family life—that is why we pay them more.

Because I am Colombian, I understand the challenges farmers face. Many don’t speak English, so they don’t have access to the European market, even though the demand for speciality coffee is growing. I see it as my responsibility—and my privilege—to support them.

Growing awareness
Obviously, it is not an easy task, but in the UK I see a real growing awareness of ethical trade and an increasing appreciation by consumers of a wide variety of high quality coffees. Together, we can make a real difference to the lives of coffee growers in Colombia.