As I journey deeper into the world of coffee, I find myself spending more and more time thinking about the farm workers at the beginning of the supply chain--those workers who painstakingly pick each coffee cherry, from sunrise to sunset. On the coffee tree, a single vine can contain under-ripe, overripe, and ripe cherries. In order to be considered “specialty-grade,” the ripe cherries must be picked by hand. Any under-ripe or overripe cherries that are picked are considered "defects" and taint the taste of the coffee. This method of picking coffee is called selective picking and is crucial to the quality of the coffee. Successful selective picking, of course, is reliant on the skill and tenacity of the previously mentioned farm workers.
Coffee is only harvested once or twice a year and requires large groups of farm workers during that time. This creates a substantial migrant workforce, picking their way from farm to farm for very little pay. Some farms only pay if a certain weight quota has been achieved, which creates an even worse environment; this pressure often causes farm workers to bring in the help of their young children. Additional problems can arise when brokers are hired by farms to provide the farm workers for harvest. Unfortunately, these brokers have been known to look out for their own interests above those of their farm workers, squeezing every penny out of the farm workers' wages in order to maximize personal profits.
As I wade through the facts of this epidemic I have to ask myself, If selective picking is so important to the quality of the coffee, why are the farm workers responsible for this task paid next to nothing? As you might imagine, this is not a question that provides one straightforward answer. Farm owners who require unrealistic weight quotas and brokers who encourage underpayment certainly contribute to the problem. However, there also seems to be an unfortunate and underlying trend throughout parts of the coffee industry where "taking advantage of farm workers" is blindly accepted as "business as usual." Due to this, the farm workers are often overlooked and forgotten about.
In order to fight these inequalities, I believe it is vital for coffee roasters and industry leaders to work closely with respectable importers who can ensure prices that provide real living wages to the farm workers at the beginning of the chain. On that same token, I believe it to be equally important to bring awareness about the farm worker inequality epidemic to our consumers so that they, too, can make informed decisions. It really boils down to all of us coming together as a coffee community and pledging to make a difference in farm workers' lives.
Buying higher quality coffee from Wander Coffee doesn’t just produce a tastier cup. Because we only work with importers who pay prices above fair-trade value, purchasing from us also ensures stability for the folks at farms across the world who grow, pick, and process coffee day in and day out. I personally thank you so much for your contribution to this cause.