From the April 2019 issue.
Chief Executive Officer of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia Roberto Vélez is deflated but not defeated. He speaks candidly with Global Coffee Report on the global industry’s co-responsibility for a sustainable chain.
According to Roberto Vélez, Chief Executive Officer of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC), Colombian coffee producers have two options: stick with their profession in hope of change, or leave.
“We are in an absolute state of desperation. When you don’t have enough money to feed yourself or your family, pay your debts, or earn enough to send your kids to school, it’s a really dark outlook. We are struggling,” Vélez says.
“The situation is the same for almost all coffee farmers around the world. We are in a desperate situation where prices paid to the growers do not cover the cost of production.”
Vélez’s comments came at the same time that the World Coffee Producers Forum (WCPF) declared the need for urgent action on coffee prices on 26 March, when organisers released an official declaration calling for serious and immediate action to be taken on the historically low international coffee price of US$0.95 per pound as of 22 March 2019.
Thirteen coffee producers’ groups, including the FNC, Colombia’s largest rural non-profit organisation, were listed on the declaration.
“With Colombia in a leading role, 35 coffee-producing countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America are calling on all members of the coffee supply chain to act quickly and responsibly to address the current international pricing crisis that is devastating coffee-producing communities around the world,” said Silvia Pavajeau, Director of Communications at the FNC US-based office, in the declaration.
Vélez says the Colombian coffee communities are at a point where the coffee value chain, as a whole, cannot continue without serious outcomes. It’s at risk of becoming a humanitarian crisis.
“It’s necessary that the global industry is informed about this situation. The industry is estimated to be worth between US$250 billion and US$300 billion. Out of that, coffee farmers around the world get less than 10 per cent. Some people are making tonnes of money out of it, while our farmers are starving,” Vélez notes.
“At these price levels, there is no true sustainability in coffee. You cannot talk about coffee being ‘only’ sustainable if it has social or environmental values. Everyone loves talking about birds, trees, clean water, and gender equality, but no-one truly cares about the income of coffee farmers. One of the most important aspects of sustainability is the economic dimension. The farmer must be paid correctly for the job he or she is doing.”
Currently, Vélez says, farmers are earning much less than a minimum wage.