As another year starts, we reflect on the previous year, the good and the bad, the lessons learned, and determine how we would like to move forward for the new year and the many years to come. In 2021, the coffee industry once again demonstrated just how challenging it can be. The spike of coffee prices, frost in Brazil, container shortages, port backlogs, national strikes, and months-long protests in Colombia, more COVID-19 regulations, and persistent labor shortages were just some of the headaches dominating coffee conversations during 2021.
Late last year we published a blogpost about how, despite the recent spikes in coffee prices, coffee growers are not necessarily making more money due to the significant increase in their costs of production, including the costs of fertilizer. Producing coffee is not becoming any easier despite the higher prices. And it all relates to one perfect storm that is affecting everyone: the supply chain crisis.
This has not only affected coffee logistics, but almost every exportable product in the world. How do we notice it? Surging inflation, as the costs associated with creating, moving, and selling goods have increased by percentages not seen in decades. In April 2021, we published a video where members of Caravela’s logistic team explained how these logistic troubles were creating roadblocks for coffee: congestion, delays, lack of containers, not enough personnel at ports, higher freight costs, and more frequent roll-overs. This was just the beginning. Although many of us might be getting inured to these delays and higher costs, it doesn’t mean things have gotten any easier since April when we published the video, as you can see in the increase in transit times shown in the graph below. Additionally, in the last quarter of 2021, the freight costs raised an average of 89%.
Challenges can also bring opportunities, and while 2021 brought many of the former, it also made us reflect, unlearn, and relearn, as well as realize what really matters in the coffee world. We realized that for coffee to thrive and prosper the industry needs a change of mindset. The reality is that coffee is not produced by trees or farms; coffee is grown and produced by people. Coffee is an extremely human product, made possible because behind every bean and every cup there are hard-working and passionate people. When we understand more fully the value and the work of these people, we will stop thinking that coffee is too expensive.
When we hear coffee growers’ stories, when our curiosity goes beyond just knowing the name of their farm, how they process the coffee and their list of certifications, we understand those details are just the tip of the iceberg. Learning about their motivations, beliefs, thoughts, and values, understanding the roles women play on farms and their unique challenges, that is when we build and develop true partnerships. In those moments, we stop seeing coffee growers as suppliers or as just one part of the supply chain, we see them as artists, we see their talent, and we understand that they are not just suppliers, but value creators.
Coffee production also depends on having a healthy planet. More and more growers each year are dealing with climate change not as abstract headlines, but as new realities to be managed and mitigated on their farms. So, if we love coffee as we say, we should respect the planet and consider the consequences of our actions. It is important to understand that the responsibility lies not only with the producer, the amount of fertilizer they apply or how they produce the coffee in a more sustainable way. It is also the responsibility of each one of us to think about how our actions are also affecting the way coffee is produced, the coffee growers, and the product.
As market volatility continues into the new year, we ask ourselves how to make the industry continue to evolve and thrive. The answer goes beyond just paying higher prices and striving for more equality within the supply chain. It involves a change of mindset, seeing things differently to build stronger connections with the whole supply chain.
Although it may sound poetic, it is about acting and changing the conversation. It is about being curious and zooming in on the stories of the people involved in coffee. It is about connecting consumers with growers through education, experiences, and stories, for everyone in between to value and be valued. It is about remembering every day during your morning cup of coffee, that coffee is not produced by plants or farms, it is produced by people.
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