Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Farmers' Plight

I thought this article was great at encapsulating the idea I want to address today: A farmer's struggle selling his produce at fair prices. A lot of us in coffee retail simply do not understand the issues that go into growing and selling coffee, and for obvious reasons. The first part of this article found on the Coffee Politics blog was very helpful in illuminating the farmers' fight for fair prices, so I'll bring it to you. I'm definitely not saying that I agree with all of the points argued on this blog, but this specific illustration about coffee pricing is very good.

"Will The Real Poor Farmer Rise"

"'A few days back, I had a rare and wonderful opportunity to spend time talking to coffee farmers in Yirgachefe, where about two hundred had gathered to greet ECX as we visited a coffee washing station owned by a prominent coffee exporter. As I stood taking in the absolute beauty of the sun starting to set over the terraced hillside where row after row of coffee drying tables loaded with beans in their golden parchment were aligned nearly perfectly, framed by dense coffee trees, while the wet mill processor creaked in the background, Ato Tadele came to greet me. We bowed to each other. He said he was a farmer who sold his red cherry to this private mill owner. I asked him how things were going. He said okay, but that he wished he could get higher prices. I laughed and said any farmer worth his salt would say the same, anywhere in the world. Then I asked what today’s price was. He said the farmers had negotiated a price of 4.35 Birr per kilogram from the miller’s starting offer of 3.50. I asked how they came up with that price. By now, we were surrounded by about 50 farmers all wanting to chip in. They said they had heard that prices in the city were getting higher. I asked them how they knew. They said they had heard on the radio. I asked them where those prices came from. A small pause. Somebody hesitantly said, the new coffee market in Addis? I said yes, breathing an inward sigh of relief. Just to make sure, I asked what time they listened to the ECX daily price broadcast. Ato Tadele brightened and said, at 8 pm. Some said, 7 am, and others, 1 pm. Now I really felt good. Then I asked if the broadcast was easy to understand. Then a lot of discussion came up, about too many prices, too fast reading, not very easy to understand. Okay, I said, let me introduce Ahadu, our market data officer, standing right here next to me, he wants to hear you on this and it is his job to get it just the way you need it. And so it went.'

'The point is that Tadele, and many more like him, take their red cherry or dry beans to the nearest market outlets, with just the faintest idea of what their coffee is worth or what the world out there, or even the national market, looks like. Our challenge is that we need to figure out, as a country and as a national marketing system, how to empower Tadele and others like him to make meaningful choices of where to sell, when to sell, at what price to sell, and to whom to sell, so that he can maximize his returns and improve the quality of his life, send his children to school, make sure they get health care, and break the vicious cycle of poverty in which he is trapped.'"

So, as you can see, the farmer faces an uphill battle. The least we can do as consumers and retailers is to be aware. This is our first step. Lord, thank you for great coffee and those who labor to produce it. I pray we are able to be just in our relation to others. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

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