Coffee conundrum: Rising consumption, falling trade prices, Economy News & Top Stories – The Straits Times


LONDON • Despite a steady increase in coffee consumption around the world, trade prices have fallen dramatically in the past three years, hitting producers.

At the same time, the cost of an espresso or latte remains as full-fat as ever.

Futures on arabica and robusta, the most widespread varieties of coffee, have fallen 40 per cent since the beginning of 2017 and are now at historically low levels.

This is largely because of bumper harvests in Brazil, the world’s main coffee producer.

But, at the same time, consumption has grown by an average of 2.1 per cent a year for the past decade, according to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO).

Two billion cups of coffee are drunk every day, according to Fairtrade International, which works to improve the lot of farmers through better pricing and conditions.

The crisis in prices is beginning to create “real structural problems” for producers, said Ms Valeria Rodriguez, a manager at fair-trade organisation Max Havelaar France.

In Central and South America, many small producers are giving up, in particular those who grow arabica, which is more difficult to produce than the robusta variety favoured in Asia, according to Mr Jack Scoville, a futures markets analyst with Price Group. Few have the money to invest, and access is limited to the kind of fertile land they would need to switch to mechanised processes with economies of scale.

“The consequences are terrible – they can no longer support themselves, invest in production or prepare for the challenges of climate change,” she said.

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In Central and South America, many small producers are giving up, in particular, those who grow arabica, which is more difficult to produce than the robusta variety favoured in Asia, according to Mr Jack Scoville, a futures markets analyst with Price Group.

Few have the money to invest, and access is limited to the kind of fertile land they would need to switch to mechanised processes with economies of scale.

Hence “origins with a higher cost of production, such as Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala, are forecast to produce less coffee for the 19/20 season”, said Sucden Financial research head Geordie Wilkes.

ICO figures published last week illustrate the trend – South America will see production fall 3.2 per cent in the coming season compared with 0.9 per cent worldwide.

DEMAND FOR HIGH QUALITY

At the same time, demand for high quality is very strong, which protects prices for certain varieties and in certain regions, said Rabobank analyst Carlos Mera.

Max Havelaar France guarantees its producers a minimum price of US$1.40 (S$1.90) per pound of coffee, plus a bonus if the coffee is organic.

But fair trade represents only a small section of the market, and the vast majority of producers are vulnerable to prices fixed by traders in London or New York.

However, the low prices they set do not affect consumer prices, said Mr Paul Belchi, also from Max Havelaar France. This is because the supply chain is long, running from the plateaus of South America to trendy coffee shops in big cities.

When you take into account merchants such as giants Nestle and Lavazza, transportation, real estate prices and staff, the trade price of coffee is about only 10 per cent of what you pay at the counter.

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Rarer varieties like Jamaica Blue Mountain, Tarrazu Costa Rica or Bourbon Pointu from Reunion Island have prices more akin to caviar, negotiated directly between the producer and the merchants.

Some of these varieties change hands at more than US$110 per kg, compared with the less than US$2.20 that arabica fetched last Friday on New York’s ICE Futures US.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE





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