Coffee: is the black stuff as green as it should be?
From deforestation to fertilizer; our taste for coffee has left some of the world’s most precious eco-systems in a precarious state. George Blacksell looks at how the coffee industry is cleaning up its act. The world’s second most tradable commodity after oil; coffee growing and processing has proven itself to be a lucrative industry. The burgeoning coffee culture that sprang up over the last few decades has led to overwhelming success for handful of coffee franchises and a massive spike in supermarket sales. Of the high street coffee chains, Costa, Starbucks, Cafe Nero and Pret A Manger have cornered the lion’s share of the profits. While no one is denying their right to make a buck, the big question is whether the profits these franchises are making are trickling down to the people actually growing the beans? And how green are they really? Is the high street coffee industry one we should buy into or should we be avoiding it altogether?
Traditionally, complexities within the supply chain have meant that the 100 million people growing coffee around the world have been excluded from the huge profit making potential of coffee. On average, third world coffee farmers receive a paltry 10 per cent of the eventual retail price. As competition among growers - 70 per cent of whom are smallholders - has stiffened; a combination of price reductions and undercutting has left them exposed to the fluctuations of the volatile coffee market. Along with the negative effect this has had on living conditions, the drive for increased output has had a knock-on effect on the environment as well, with monocropping and sun grown coffee now the norm. And given that most coffee growing regions are also home to some of the most delicate eco-systems on earth; the potential for serious damage is high.