Coffee industry challenges & solutions


Someone once said, “Everything good takes time”, which is so true, right? It takes work too and we’re always looking at and investigating the bigger coffee picture, looking for ways to make our business better for everyone.

To be honest, every industry has its problems and the coffee world is no different. Instead of ignoring them and hoping they just go away, we believe it’s vital to look them in the eye and deal with them. It’s important to come up with helpful solutions that will benefit all parts of our business and the industry as a whole. Let’s do it!

Coffee industry challenges & solutions

Challenge #1 – Thrive not survive

In the past the coffee industry has really tried to make sure farmers and producers have been looked after. This has helped a lot of small farmers to feed their families and pay their bills which is great. But the next step we have to take is to give these people/communities a future by enabling them to build a thriving business of their own.

Solution #1 – Education is key

Producers and farmers need to know how to run a successful business. They need to understand how to manage their finances, how to price their goods, what to invest in to cover them in the lean times. Roasters and coffee organisations can help here, by setting up a kind of ‘insurance’ scheme for themselves so that when prices drop, they can still support producers/farmers helping them to grow their businesses.


Challenge #2 – Ageing farmers

In Colombia alone, the average age of coffee farmers is nearly 60 years old. Where have all the young farmers gone? Where are their children? A lot of them have watched their parents and grandparents struggle to make a living on their farm due to the leaf rust epidemic, volatile market prices, a changing climate and low productivity just to name a few issues. So, it’s no wonder that they’ve been turned off continuing the family business, instead, looking for more lucrative industries elsewhere.

Solution #2 – Financially healthy farms

As with Solution #1, the answer to this problem is making the farms financially healthy. Young people have to be taught how to run a successful business, not just how to grow coffee plants. In Colombia, where the ageing coffee farmer problem is particularly bad, some schools have started to alter their education programmes to alleviate this problem. According an article written by Roast Magazine the plan is to “integrate math and science with hands-on farming exercises on the school’s campus. The holistic curriculum prepares students who leave the community for success while showing those who choose to stay that farming can be fun, educational and profitable.”

Challenge #3 – Stagnant prices

Whilst green bean prices are extremely volatile and fluctuate frequently, when averaged out, coffee trades at roughly the same level as the 1970s. Think of how that’s affected coffee farmers? With the price of living, including everyday essentials such as food, petrol, education, health etc rising every year, this puts the coffee farmer in a pretty dire situation.


Solution #3 – Raising prices

Although it’s probably not what us coffee addicts want to hear, it’s really the fair thing to do. The key issue in rising prices is ensuring that the extra money raised goes to farmers at origin and not elsewhere in the coffee chain. Thus making the need to charities and certifications operating in the coffee industry necessary in today’s current climate. Though these systems are not perfect. As an industry, we need to work out the price coffee is worth in modern terms.

Challenge #4 – Coffee shortage

If coffee farming isn’t lucrative for farmers or producers, they’ll leave the industry in droves, looking for crops or businesses that will more than pay the bills for their families. Climate change and the coffee leaf rust epidemic affecting a lot of coffee growing countries are both significant  contributors. This means no morning coffee (or quality morning coffee) for us with a shortage of quality beans to be sourced.


Solution #4 – Assessment

It all comes back to education. Farmers need to be upskilled and financed in order to be better equipped to deal with the often hostile origin coffee growing conditions. This is where certification bodies like Fairtrade play a large role as they assist farmers with acquiring the needed funds to progress their farm. The most troubling issue are those associated with climate as there is only so much that can be done by farmers to tackle this problem.

From farmers to consumers, we all need to understand the real cost of quality coffee. It has to be fair for farmers, producers, coffee businesses, roasters and consumers. Perhaps it will mean a hike in the price of a cuppa from our local cafe or a dollar on top of our favourite bag of beans.

What about Fairtrade coffee?

If farmers are struggling, if the price of coffee hasn’t risen in almost 45 years has Fairtrade failed? No. (Phew!) Fairtrade has made some pretty impressive leaps forward in providing equitable conditions for poor farmers, alothough it has never claimed to be a perfect organisation or model.

But, as Harriet Lamb (CEO of Fairtrade International, Germany) has said, “Fairtrade is a large, complex work in progress.” lamb goes on to say, “we are gradually, layer by layer, unpeeling the intertwined and entangled impacts of poverty in trade.”  The good news is that Fairtrade is trying to bring more and more fair conditions for people in poor nations. And that’s something we are behind 100% at Sacred Grounds Organic.

Do you think consumers should pay more for coffee?

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