Transitioning Coffee Farmers Out of Coffee

Below is an adapted version of a post I made on LinkedIn:

“Scientists in Finland are trying to come up with a sustainable, lab-grown alternative for the next cup of coffee — but the technology for producing it is still very costly.”

Coffee production hurts the planet. Scientists think they may have another way | CNBC.com

Now is the time to start transitioning producers who simply can’t make ends meet through coffee production into a different product or commodity. Even if ‘Lab Coffee’ never catches on, those marginal producers will be better off producing something they can make a living from rather than sticking with an unsuccessful product.

Of course it would be great if there is a coffee solution that works for them, but transitioning out of coffee should be on the table. Fewer coffee farmers may be a good thing, because coffee production is too often unsustainable from deforestation, incredibly high water and energy usage (at both ends of the supply chain, actually), global transportation/shipping, agrochemical abuse, etc.

The CNBC article doesn’t explicitly mention it, but part of the agricultural investment package should include re-skilling some coffee farmers out of coffee. Transitioning farmers out of poverty into a sustainable mode of production (regardless of the product) is the goal.

Farmers who are already having a hard time participating in the coffee market will have an even harder time competing with ‘lab coffee’ that will likely be cheaper than their grown coffee.

I spoke about transitioning coffee farmers out of coffee first in the article titled Improving Farmgate Coffee Prices:

Not all impoverished farmers can succeed in integrating into globalized value chains. In those cases where they can’t, they should focus on local markets or they should be assisted in alternative pathways out of poverty; from shifting out of the coffee industry entirely or even migration where possible. As a coffee professional, I don’t necessarily want to see someone leave the industry entirely, but if it also means leaving poverty behind, then it’s the right choice.

In that article, I discuss the difference in value between the raw product produced by coffee mills and the finished product produced by roasters. But the underlying premise is the same: if the producer is unable to make a good enough profit from producing coffee, the option to transition out of coffee should be considered.


Michael C. Wright

Michael is an American expat living in Southeast Asia where he writes about many things coffee-related. A roaster by trade, Michael is also a licensed Q Grader, licensed Q Processor Pro, an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST), and most recently, a graduate with a degree in horticulture and a concentration in ag-business.