“Why I Don’t Want to Become a Coffee Farmer”

Coffee is grown in over seventy countries, employing tens of millions of people just in the farming process. It is a bohemoth industry, and impossible to cover in its entirety in one week.

The farmers simply must be discussed, though, and so we will focus today on one country whose workers exemplify the condition of many coffee farmers worldwide: Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is the hometown of coffee. Legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder discovered the plant’s power when he saw his goats prancing about oddly after eating the red cherries that hold the coffee bean. He tasted the bean for himself and coffee as we know it was born.

Since that fateful day, Ethiopia’s economic, social, and political life has been defined by coffee. The country is known for supplying some of the best beans in the world. And their coffee ceremony, shaped by centuries of tradition, mirrors their deep respect for the plant that provides their livelihood.

But the farmers’ respect for coffee far outweighs our respect for the farmers. In the last decade, the price of coffee has dropped dramatically, and farmers in Ethiopia have been left wondering how to afford food for their children. Because of subsidies supported by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which make trading any other crop financially impossible, coffee farmers can only make a living by continuing to produce coffee. But they must do so at the rates determined for them by Nestle, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, and Sara Lee – rates that are dismally low.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony; Photographer developed the film in coffee!

In the film Black Gold, which gives further context to Ethiopia’s coffee export industry, one farmer’s son describes his situation this way:

“You ask me why I don’t want to become a coffee farmer. My grandfather, who was a coffee farmer, got minimal reward for his work. My father, who toils until his back breaks, can’t get a fair price for his coffee and generate sufficient cash to meet the demands of his family. It has trapped him in the hardships of life, and me also.”

In Ethiopia, as is the case in numerous other countries, the daily struggle to afford food and clothing, shelter and shoes – let alone education or electricity – has led many farmers away from coffee and into farming a more lucrative commodity: narcotics. Farmers willing to grow a plant banned in many Western countries can often make enough money to send their children to school and break the cycle of poverty.

As the consumers, we have to decide how important our farmers are to us, and reward them accordingly. We will be discussing the Fair Trade movement in greater detail later this week. Until then, let’s talk politics for a bit:

What rights as a worker do you appreciate the most?
What do you think of agricultural subsidies at home and abroad?
One African diplomat in Black Gold states below that, to his country, trade is more important than aid. Do you agree? What would need to be done to replace aid with lasting development?

Further resources:

Learn more about the beautiful Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Epicurean.com.

Ethiopia is also threatened with political instability right now. Read more about their coming elections in May.

Watch a preview of Black Gold or visit the film’s website. It is an eye-opening introduction to the coffee business, particularly in regards to Ethiopia:

2 Responses to ““Why I Don’t Want to Become a Coffee Farmer””
  1. Darrell says:

    Withdraw from all international “trade” organizations such as WTO, Gatt, Nafta, and CAFTA. Withdraw from all international alliances such as NATO. End all foreign aid both economic and military since it is unconstitutional and the U.S. is technically bankrupt. Adopt a policy of strict neutrality with all nations with no exceptions. Trade with all nations. Be a friend of liberty everywhere but guarantee only our own. Withdraw from all pointless, unconstitutional wars. Come home and mind our own business. End the FED. Rebuild this country. Have a couple of cups of coffee and enjoy the sunshine again.

  2. Claire says:

    I need to learn more about subsidies. I know that Matthew’ grandfather’s business is HIGHLY subsidized (the most in his county and the surrounding area in SW KS) and I know that is their way of survival, but hurts others. If you have some resources you’d suggest to learn more about the impact of subsidies I’d love it… or if you cover that here, all the better!

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