Response to Mail on Sunday article on devastating impacts of La Roya

Fairtrade coffee beans

The Mail on Sunday has recently published an article highlighting how a group of coffee farmers in Mexico are earning very low incomes due to the double blow of continued downward pressure on market prices and an outbreak of crop disease ‘La Roya’, meaning the amount of coffee they are able to sell is greatly reduced.

Leaf rust disease is one of the many effects of climate change that coffee farmers have to face now and will continue to do so in the future, and Fairtrade welcomes discussion around mitigating interventions. Year after year coffee farmers struggle through volatile markets uncertain if they will be able to even cover their costs of production.

 

Leaf rust is a debilitating fungus that is attacking coffee bushes. The plague is devastating to smallholder farmers, many of whom have been unable to make the necessary investments to improve their productivity or quality. In 2015 alone, coffee farmers across Mexico have lost up to 40% of their crops to the disease over three crop seasons. [i]Depleted incomes mean farmers cannot invest in farming essentials such as fertiliser and coffee bush replacement, reducing yields even further. Fairtrade has over years made efforts to help farmers fight coffee rust through Fairtrade Access Fund, and providing vital specialist training and workshops.

The coffee brand Café Mam which was featured in the article is not a Fairtrade licensee and is affiliated with a different certification body. However Indigenas de la Sierra Madre de Motozintla (ISMAM), the producer co-operative in question, does sell very small volumes of coffee on Fairtrade terms. Unfortunately it seems the resulting return for their hard work is not enough to cushion them against the knocks they currently face.  

 

In the past, ISMAM’s Fairtrade sales have provided higher incomes for farmers, technical assistance and training in organic production and sustainable farming.

 

Furthermore, the article doesn’t provide a like for like comparison of the final coffee price. The article compares roasted coffee vs the coffee delivered by the producer, which only has part of the process, leaving further processes without consideration (dry milling, roasting, packing, transportation, etc.).

 

Lastly, and more importantly, the article fails to point out the quantities of coffee beans delivered by the producers, which is detrimental to their income. Without this information is difficult to determine the unitary price paid to them (USD/lb). Producers are paid for the beans and not for the final product (roasted coffee), as the article further (and wrongly) suggests.

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Fairtrade works with more than 730,000 small-scale coffee farmers in 30 countries, providing a fair price which is set to cover the cost of sustainable production for that product in that region plus a Fairtrade Premium to invest in essential community and business projects and training, and support to farmer organisations to help them adapt better to changing climate and weather conditions.

Fairtrade has paved the way for ethical trading around the world. Independent research shows that Fairtrade is contributing to higher household income for farmers, and helping them to earn better prices for their coffee. [ii] [iii]


 

[iii] New research by the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich that assesses the impact of Fairtrade for coffee smallholders in four countries (Indonesia, Mexico, Peru and Tanzania), has found that in three of the four research countries, Fairtrade farmers reported higher incomes than non-Fairtrade farmers. They also found that Fairtrade farmers and their organisations have become more resilient and less vulnerable to shocks such as price crashes, as a result of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and the Fairtrade Premium.