At Caffea, we put sustainability at the forefront of everything we do, so we only work with farms that produce organic coffee. We follow this policy because we don’t want you, our customer, to consume anything that may have been cultivated using pesticides. And we also want to protect the coffee farmers and their families from the dangerous chemicals too often used in coffee cultivation.
This post explores the chemicals commonly used in coffee production, how they affect the coffee supply chain, and by implication, impact all of us coffee producers and consumers.
First, it is important to note that one of coffee’s most effective pesticides is caffeine itself. Caffeine evolved in coffee plants as a natural insecticide, killing or disabling many bugs and insects that try to consume the plant.
Why Do Coffee Farmers Use Pesticides?
The two forms of coffee plants, Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (Robusta), are very susceptible to diseases like coffee rust (called “roya”), wilt, coffee berry disease and over 25 others. Not only do diseases hurt coffee production, but Cicadas, Coffee Borer Beetle, Coffee Leaf Miner, Coffee Red Mite, Coffee White Stem Borer and other pests across the world also attack coffee plants.
With all of the different diseases and pests affecting coffee production, it is only logical that farmers would hedge their bets and invest in pesticides.
For a coffee farmer, losing even a small portion of your crop can have long-lasting financial impacts on your family. A farmer deploying pesticides can get about 485 pounds of coffee from one acre, versus 285 pounds per acre on an organic farm.
The Pesticides Used Today in Coffee Cultivation
Coffee is indisputably one of the most important crops grown in the world today. However, there is a major discrepancy between the chemicals that farmers are allowed to use in coffee-producing countries and what is allowed to be consumed in developed countries.
For example, Terbufos, a toxic insecticide, is not approved for use or consumption in the EU, however, it can still be found in Brazilian coffee cultivation. Additionally, insecticides like Endosulfan and Lindance have long been used to deter the Coffee Berry Borer, but now they are now being phased out due to their severe toxicity.
The Risk to the Farmer - Tanzania
Many of the pesticides used are neurotoxins that affect all living beings that come in contact with them, including humans. The coffee and cotton farmers of Tanzania have unfortunately become a case study in how farmers and their neighboring villages have been affected by the chemicals used to treat their crops.
An article in the December 2003 edition of the African Newsletter reported that 15% of Tanzanian coffee farmers have been poisoned at least once in their working life. Even more alarming, a 2001 study in the International Journal of Medicine and Environmental Health exposed the lack of education and training for coffee farmers on how to properly spray their crops. Over the course of the study, there were 58 pesticide-poisoning cases reported in coffee-growing areas, resulting in four deaths.
This is not only a serious health hazard for the coffee farmers, but surrounding towns and villages also ingest the chemicals as the substances travel through the air or downstream through their water supply. The same 2001 study in the International Journal of Medicine and Environmental Health reported that pesticide poisoning was regarded as a major problem in the community by 63% of health care providers, including 77% of hospital staff.
Fair Trade Protects the Farmers … and You
When you buy Fair Trade coffee like we sell at Caffea, you are sending a message to all coffee growers around the world that there is indeed a market for pesticide-free coffee, and that they don’t have to poison their fields and themselves to make a decent living.
Fair Trade practices ensure that the farmers are getting paid a good price for their coffee, at the expense of the middleman. Since they are getting paid a decent price per pound, the farmers don’t have to turn to dangerous pesticides to boost production.
When you drink our coffee, know that you are drinking a truly healthy beverage, full of natural flavor and antioxidants, and that with every sip you are making the world a little bit safer and more enjoyable for the hard-working coffee farmers with whom we share our bountiful planet.