Around the world, more than 400 billion – yes, billion – cups of coffee are consumed every year. In the United States alone, more than 450 million cups are consumed per day.
This high – and growing – consumption of coffee brings a number of benefits across the coffee supply chain, from the farm to the consumer levels.
As a part of our World Without Coffee series, we take a look at five ways the world is better with coffee:
- Economic value
- Environmental sustainability
- Community creation
- Living wages
- Upskilling workers
1. The Economic Benefits of Coffee: A Major Player in the World Economy
Through the complex and lengthy process of growing, exporting, and roasting coffee, there are costs associated with every cup – no matter how you take your coffee.
Globally, the coffee industry is valued at over $90 billion. And while the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have created an increasing number of challenges for coffee producers and retailers, the global demand for coffee is still on the rise.
This ongoing rise in demand has led to coffee being the fourth most-consumed beverage by sales volume, benefitting people around the world and in various places in the supply chain.
Although there is still important progress to be made in ensuring coffee farmers can earn a sustainable income from the crop, 2.3 cups of coffee consumed every minute can mean a reliable income for nearly 125 million people in coffee growing, roasting, exporting, and retail.
And when farmers receive the agricultural and business training to improve their coffee’s yields and quality, the world’s java habit can help millions of smallholder farmers escape poverty. With better coffee income, people can make the money they need to support their families, send their children to school, and purchase the things they need.
2. How Coffee Helps Fight Climate Change
Before the days of industrialized coffee production, coffee growing often benefited its local environment. Coffee was often grown under a tree canopy, providing natural habitats for wildlife. In fact, recent data show that there’s a direct correlation between the structural complexity of a coffee farm and the number of species there.
Research also shows that sustainable coffee production, like shaded coffee, can help fight more recent climate change impacts by:
- Preventing soil erosion by having complex tree canopies
- Supporting greater biodiversity, which is often under threat due to extreme weather patterns
- Returning carbon to the soil, where it is often being aggressively depleted through industrial agriculture
In Ethiopia, many smallholder coffee farmers are producing wild and semi-wild forest coffee with the support of TechnoServe programs aimed at maintaining the diversity of forests while increasing productivity for farmers.
So, while it may take a shift in the way coffee is grown on a large scale, there are immense climate-related benefits to sustainable coffee production.
For many of us, coffee means a brighter morning. For the farmers who grow it, coffee means better healthcare, education, and opportunity for their families.
This International Coffee Day, October 1, 2021, hear from top coffee experts as they discuss sustainability challenges in the industry–and how you can be a part of the effort to help.
3. Coffee Production – and Consumption – Builds Community
For smallholder coffee producers — especially in places like East Africa where farm sizes are historically small — many cooperatives are in place to support the farmers. When these groups of producers work together, they can gain better access to resources, opportunities, and technologies — improving both their skills and their incomes.
Working within these collective enterprises, consider just three of the positive outcomes many coffee farmers have achieved at scale, around the world:
- Establishing new schools and clinics in their communities
- Helping women enhance their socio-economic power
- Undertaking ambitious environmental improvement projects
Coffee consumption often revolves around community, too. People around the world meet at coffee shops for work and fun, often creating a sense of community for patrons and employees. In many places, socializing and coffee go hand-in-hand – along with a nice productivity boost.
Coffee grounds can also be used as a compost or mulch, and many coffee shops have initiatives to make better use of what is otherwise considered waste as they work to educate people about coffee’s journey from the field to the shop.
4. Living Wages Through Sustainable Coffee Production
From wild forest coffee in Ethiopia to the high altitudes of Colombian coffee production, smallholder farmers produce nearly 80% of all coffee consumed around the world.
But often these farmers are the hardest hit by:
- Natural disasters and climate change, which bring new weather patterns and extremes
- Price fluctuations, which often come from political instability and economic downturn
- Human-created conflict, which disrupts supply chains and endangers farmers
In order to overcome these challenges, coffee farmers need ways to improve their economic and environmental resilience, with reliable levels of coffee quality and yields as well as income diversification.
For instance, TechnoServe’s Coffee Initiative trained nearly 140,000 farmers in East Africa in climate-smart ways to improve their coffee’s quality and value. The improved coffee helps farmers start selling to higher-paying, reliable coffee roasters, enabling many to achieve a living income.
Overall, farmers in the program achieved yield improvements of 38% and average income increases of 27%.
And for women, who are often shut out of the most profitable agricultural opportunities, coffee helps create a pathway to greater income and independence. Working with TechnoServe, many women have taken on leadership roles in coffee cooperatives and become community role models through their path-breaking work as coffee agronomists.
5. Quality Coffee Promotes Upskilling and Emerging Technologies
Improving coffee quality often requires new skills and technologies. While better coffee helps bring economic benefits, it also brings new skills and technical training that enables the use of emerging technologies.
For example, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) is used to measure coffee tree growth by using a pulsed laser to register the distance from the ground to the tree’s leaves. Climate-smart technologies are used to prevent post-harvest losses by way of evaporative cooling chambers, coolers that use evaporation to keep perishable food fresh.
Through TechnoServe programs, farmers are learning how to use, implement, and troubleshoot new technologies and enabling them to learn new skills.
For farmers who may want to prepare for future technological advances – or provide new opportunities for their children and communities – this training may allow them to do so. For example, an SMS bookkeeping project in Rwanda helped nearly 100,000 coffee farmers get access to working capital from finance providers.