Europe’s coffee trade: Grounds for reform?

Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world. 1.6 billion cups are consumed every day and the global market is worth 64 billion euros. But do coffee farmers get a fair share of the profits?

Coffee is mainly consumed in industrialised economies, but over 90% is grown in developing countries, where many coffee growers live below the poverty line.

Recent research shows that when you buy a package of coffee in the Netherlands, the farmer only gets 10 cents. And when you buy a cappuccino in the UK, just 7 cents go to the farmer.

The EU is the largest consumer and importer of coffee in the world. It has also committed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. What role can Europe play in making the coffee market more sustainable?

The Commission already provides some financial support to fair trade initiatives through its development cooperation budget. But activists say this is not enough and have called for a reform of trade rules.

Trade is dominated by large multinational traders and roasters, and coffee prices are volatile. The ability to plan production and control prices is not in the hands of the farmers themselves.

NGOs have tried to push for trading alternatives, like helping farmers harvest higher-quality specialty coffee, which can then be sold for a premium, or enabling them to control other stages of the value chain.

Farmers also need better access to technical knowledge, infrastructure and capital. Otherwise they will be forced to continue selling their coffee at very low prices.

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