That cup of coffee you enjoy in the morning goes through a lot before it’s brewed and poured.
All around the world, coffee farmers grow and harvest the most flavorful beans, which by itself is a massive amount of work. According to Equal Exchange, it can take anywhere between four and five years for a carefully grown plant to be ready to produce coffee beans. And the people who do this work face some unique challenges.
Here are 15 very real stories from around the globe about what it’s like to grow your own coffee today.
Will Hobby, a coffee trader working out of Brazil for D.R. Wakefield, spoke on the company’s blog about the struggles in his country. One that has proved to be a huge obstacle is climate change. With droughts, the crops and plants cannot grow to their full potential if at all. “In Brazil, the bigger coffee estates take advantage of irrigation and artificially feed their trees, but the vast majority of countries are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and there’s nothing they can do,” he lamented.
No Policymakers in the Game
Coffee farmer and consultant Luis Rodriguez Ventura writes in the Specialty Coffee Chronicle about why he grows coffee and what it means to him. As a former Salvadoran Coffee Council analyst, coffee came naturally to him, but in 2001 he left his office work to become a full-time farmer.
When asked about the biggest problems he faces, he said: “Lack of solid policy-making and proper research coffee institutions. I don’t mean subsidized agriculture or an entity giving away coffee trees to plant or some fungicide every year. I mean institutions that help create a somehow secure environment with better tools to make optimal decisions.”
Learning the Craft
A lot of time, effort and skill go into planting coffee trees that will survive for years and not wither and die. Venezuelan coffee farmer Antonio in Santa Cruz de Mora says he had a tough time learning the ropes of coffee farming at first.
“At the beginning, it is hard to plant the coffee, he says. “But once you have grown coffee plants, it is really easy to do the maintenance, and the plant will have many years useful if you take care of it. There are a lot of steps in the production of coffee, so one has to have patience and make all the stages with love and care.”
The Price of Seeds
Rafael Davila owns his own coffee shop in Santa Cruz de Mora, a region unofficially known as La Tierra del Café, or “The Land of Coffee.” His shop is called Torrefactora Café Santa Marta. In Venezuela, the prices of seeds can fluctuate to the point that farmers have a hard time paying for them. Despite his 40 years of experience, Davila finds his job is becoming more difficult. “The hardest part of the production is to find the seeds and fertilizer for the plants,” he said.
It can be difficult for growers who see marginal profits to pay for their machinery. And if these machines malfunction, it can be devastating.
Faiber, a coffee producer who works at the Finca Palmira farm in Campo Alegre, Venezuela, says he found this out firsthand. “I like to work with the dryer machine, but you have to be very careful because, for example, one time I was drying grain in the dryer machine and then the electrical supply was stopped,” he says. “That can make the dryer catch fire because the air can’t flow without an electrical supply, so I had to stop it immediately.”
Most people in the United States who strike out on their own to open a cafe can afford to hire a few employees, but that’s not always so in other countries.
Guillermo, who owns a cafe called El Moro in Santa Cruz de Mora finds that money runs thin. “The hardest part is finding employees and paying them because they are too expensive,” he says.
He also mentions, as does Rafael Davila above, that seeds are hard to come by. “[I]t is difficult to find fertilizer and new seeds. Nobody is selling neither of them.”