Producers and the Pandemic
Producer relationships are a cornerstone value of our green coffee sourcing strategy. Watching Covid-19 close in on the entire world like an ominous and destructive storm gravely concerned us, especially for the people we work with at origin every day.
As the global pandemic continues to unfold, the impacts on the coffee industry are significant and complex. In a normal economic climate, if one market slows another might lift, freeing the surplus coffee to be exported to different customers and markets – but this has not been the case since Covid-19 entered our everyday lives.
When lockdowns were imposed by countries throughout the world, cafes and restaurants closed and the wholesale coffee market virtually disappeared overnight. Globally, many small roasteries put themselves into hibernation, ready to wake up and start roasting again on the other side of this devastating pandemic. All the while, other roasters continued to fight through, driving online sales and managing with heavily reduced staffing levels, strict social distancing measures and new safety protocols. While consumer purchasing behaviours have largely been driven online due to our ‘new normal’, these sales levels are of a significantly smaller quantity than that of any wholesale account - and from a commercial point of view, any uptake in online sales is quickly eaten up by the loss in the wholesale volume.
From farm to cup, the global coffee industry’s volume levels have been severely altered, shipping and exporting logistics are hindered, there is a world-wide shortage in shipping containers, bottlenecks clogging up all points of the supply chain and constantly fluctuating currencies. All of these challenges now impact our producers livelihoods on a daily basis, and the coffee industry as a whole.
For us, the pandemic has meant that we cannot travel to visit our producers at origin. It also means that we will continue to rely heavily on our long-term supply partnerships to navigate our way through the systemic challenges that our producers are facing in the lead up to the new season.
We all have our own stories of personal and professional survival through the pandemic, but not all stories talk of loss and heartache. We are constantly in touch with our producers at origin to support them, in any way possible, through these extremely challenging times and have heard have stories which are nothing but heartening in the face of life changing adversity. Stories of people demonstrating greater community spirit, of commercial innovation to legacy procedures and policies, and increased care provided to protect the wellbeing of farmers, their families and workers at origin too.
Our friends and producing partners in Colombia, Caravela Coffee and El Yalcon, have adapted their processes at origin, implementing protocols and communicating with farmers on a regular basis to ensure safe working conditions are in place and that the quality of the harvest is ensured. Caravela have assisted farmers with access to quality PPE gear, have opened their co-ops seven days a week so that coffee can be dropped off by producers for sale in a socially distanced manner, and have ensured that good amounts of coffee have been continually available for purchase. They have also continued their producer education programmes throughout the pandemic, showing extremely positive results in clean water management and the reduction of infestation levels of Roya and Broca for this year’s harvest.
In recent months, producers in Colombia have had to manage the impact of exchange rates with the USD (the trading currency for all coffee). At the same time, origin countries that produce mild coffees similar to Colombia have experienced low volume and low quality harvests. As a result, the internal price of more commercial grade coffees has been driven up, forcing specialty and sustainability focused exporters and producers to compete with local buyers.
On a positive note, in rural areas of Colombia the outbreak has been extremely low and farmers have been able to relatively remain safe on their isolated farms.
The 2020 harvest in Brazil was one of the largest it has seen in recent times. Both our producing partners, Fazenda Santa Izabel and Fazenda Nova Alianca, have reported favourable weather conditions both during the growing season and following harvest which has resulted in exceptional quality.
The key challenge faced in Brazil has been managing the large amounts of farm workers required to harvest in regions where the coffee is hand-picked. Self-employed workers sought and received economic aid from the government, however, this meant that workers could not be registered for coffee harvest work. Companies in the larger cities have laid off employees due to the pandemic, with some of these individuals then seeking work on coffee farms. This has meant that the labour force for the 2020 coffee harvest was extremely strong, and the harvest was managed in very good time.
In some Brazilian states, workers who are travelling to coffee farms have been required to complete an isolation period, and are required to return a negative test before starting in the field. Buses, the usual method of daily transport to and from work as a picker, have been operating at times at a mere 25% capacity level, creating major delays and logistical challenges for workers.
Unlike the rural isolation of our producers in Colombia and Brazil; in Palencia, Guatemala (very near Guatemala City), the Reyes family were aware from the early stages of the pandemic that they would have to manage the transient nature of the people in the area, versus the spread of the virus - especially as deaths were reported in Palencia town. They acted fast on their farms developing and adopting safety protocols for their workers, and have faced no problems at the farm or mill - keeping the teams separated into groups and limiting visitors to the farms.
The relationships we have founded, developed and nurtured over the years with our producing partners at origin have been critical to our being in a position to support and sustain them throughout the pandemic. We have a mutual commitment to one another. A commitment of loyalty, trust, traceability, transparency and quality. We have made it a priority to honour and facilitate our long term contracts with our producers to ensure they are able to sustain their livelihoods, plan, produce and provide the speciality coffee that we all know and love for years to come.