Coffee farmers losing billions to profiteers, says report

Africa’s coffee farmers are exploited in an industry that makes billions of dollars every year, says report

In Summary

• Kenya, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania are the largest coffee producing countries in Africa, with Ethiopia and Uganda dominating the region’s production at 62 per cent. 

• African farmers’ share in the roasted coffee value chain is ranging from 8.7 per cent to 12.6 per cent.

A coffee farmer picks ripe berries.
COFFEE SECTOR: A coffee farmer picks ripe berries.

Coffee farmers across Africa are facing economic devastation as prices continue on a downward trajectory, often below production costs.

This is according to a new report released on Thursday by food experts on how Africa’s coffee farmers are losing billions to exploitation.

According to the World Economic Forum, African coffee producers include Kenya, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Ethiopia and Uganda dominate the region’s coffee production, accounting for 62 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s coffee output.

In West Africa, Ivory Coast is the largest producer. It is the third largest in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Wanjiru Kariuki, a 68-year old coffee farmer from Othaya in Nyeri county, ponders why she is still poor despite being a farmer for many years while profits for multinational coffee dealers increase year after year.

“I am poor, hungry, and shoeless. Those who benefit from my hard work cannot even tie a belt like this as they have stomachs bigger than a hippopotamus, all from my coffee,” said the grandmother to four.

According to the report, African farmers’ share in the roasted coffee value chain is ranging from 8.7 per cent to 12.6 per cent, with the share being less in major African coffee exporters - Ethiopia and Uganda - being at 12.6 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

“Farmers’ shares in the roasted coffee value chain are higher outside of Africa, with India's coffee growers getting 15.7 per cent and 14.9 per cent in Brazil. It is estimated that African coffee farmers are losing $1.47 billion every year from exploitative pricing of their crops. These amounts are crucial for African producers from several countries where coffee is their major export product,” it states.

The report was released by Selina Wamucii, a platform for food and agricultural produce from Africa’s agricultural cooperatives, farmers’ groups, agro-processors, and other organisations that work directly with family farmers across 54 African countries.

John Oroko, CEO of Selina Wamucii, said this situation is untenable for the African farmer, who produces some fine quality coffee, but receives the lowest prices of all growers, globally. These coffee farmers are existentially threatened.

“The only feasible solution is the establishment of a quota-based, International Coffee Agreement, that sets export quotas and helps steer the price and makes it possible for farmers to live from the proceeds of their hard work,” Oroko said.

He added that if Africa wants to end the exploitation, the global trading rules for coffee will have to be changed through a pro-farmer political framework.

“If this cannot be achieved within the confines of the World Trade Organization, then Africans are better off looking up to OPEC for inspiration and executing a Pan-Africa Coffee Agreement that doesn't fatten a few while sucking the life out of farmers. Anything else is pure tokenism that seeks to buy time,” Oroko concluded.