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How coffee lovers can help coffee growers

As the most-consumed beverage in the world, and the second most traded global commodity after oil, coffee is economically important on an international scale. Its production and sale generated nearly $50 billion worldwide in 2015, and that number has only gone up.

For coffee-producing countries, which are primarily in the developing world, profits from coffee export can account for a significant percent of GDP. Colombia is the second most-productive coffee producing country in the world after Brazil, but despite the role coffee plays in the economy, many of the farmers who rely on it for their livelihoods live in poverty. 

This is because growing the product that ends up roasted and ground and made into drinks like lattes and long blacks and cafés con leche is inherently risky. From inclement weather to pests to disease, coffee trees are susceptible to myriad environmental hazards (even clouds can hurt production). On top of natural threats, market prices for coffee are incredibly variable, and farmers bear the brunt of this volatility. 

You can help support a more sustainable coffee industry by backing Direct Origin.

So what can the international community, which has collectively decided with its purchasing habits that coffee is valuable, do to make the product’s production more sustainable for producers? 

A lot. Coffee consumers can help reduce risks throughout the coffee supply chain and support producers so that they're not left out to dry. One way to do that is to help provide financing to organizations that operate in service of producer wellbeing rather than profit. 

Direct Origin Trading is one such organization. As a farmer collective based in Colombia and Honduras made up entirely of small-scale coffee farmers, their goal is to offer producers direct access to coffee roasters in the United States and Australia. Many of the farmers that comprise the collective are based in conflict-torn areas of Colombia still recovering from civil war, and without Direct Origin Trading would not have access to international coffee markets. 

The organization is raising funds for a Kiva loan to extend a program that pays their members a 50%+ premium price for their coffees over the international commodity price, known as “the C.” This helps protect farmers from a variety of risks including crop devaluation, something that can happen when too much coffee hits the international market at once, during strong harvest years. 

As a collective, Direct Origin Trading also shares resources so that all of its members can operate independently while benefiting from the same efficiency as larger coffee growing estates and international traders. The organization is partnered with Colombian coffee associations and co-ops that provide day-to-day agronomical and business support for their member farmers, so they can dedicate more resources to facilitating commercial activities between farmers and international markets.

Because profit margins for coffee roasters in the developed world are prohibitively tight, it can be extremely difficult for small or medium-sized roasteries to invest in the coffee producing communities they purchase from — there simply isn’t enough cash on hand for these smaller companies to make sizable changes. Meanwhile, roasteries large enough to make an impact on the supply chain are in many cases either logistically unable or unwilling to reach least-served populations. 

This is why contributing to a Kiva loan that benefits underserved producers is important — organizations like Direct Origin Trading can start to reshape the industry and bypass parts of the system that are detrimental to producers. 

As a collective, it provides support for farmers when their crops fail and assumes all financial risk on behalf of its members, who typically are not financially equipped spoilage. All risk, financing, and the cost of shared services are covered by the collective centrally.

So before you enjoy your next caffeine fix, you can help support a more sustainable coffee industry by backing Direct Origin, or lending to a coffee producer

About the author

Michael Light

Michael is a writer and editor originally from Dayton, Ohio. He currently serves as Kiva's Partnerships and Marketing Intern, as well as Features Editor at the Sprudge Media Network. He's worked previously for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Climbing Magazine, Vice, Lucky Peach and McSweeney’s.