Top 10 Blogs of 2013: 9. Projects for Quality Coffee Bean Farming

by Developed Africa 20. December 2013 09:00

 As 2013 draws to a close, Developed Africa looks back over our 10 most popular posts of the year.

  

An article in the Wall Street Journal has highlighted the importance of consumer pressures on business.

Coffee giants Nestle, Mondelez International and D.E. Master Blenders have all started to make waves in the coffee manufacturing world by making some movement towards a more ethical approach in their treatment of farmers and coffee bean producers. Each of these giants has set up a project designed to benefit these important stakeholders: Nestle is setting up training and replanting programmes in Africa; Mondelez a similar scheme in Vietnam; and D.E. are offering funding to farmers to support their businesses.

Clearly there are two different angles that this can be viewed from. Firstly, the motivation for these large companies to adopt policies of this sort. And secondly, how far these policies go in dealing with consumer and wider concern about business ethics where multinationals are involved in developing countries.

It is clear from the article in the Wall Street Journal that the motivation being projected is that these producers are driven by consumer demand, not only for a better quality product but for businesses with an ethical core, who treat their primary producers well. However, the real push behind these moves is the fact that rural farmers are starting to migrate to cities because they are not making a good enough living from farming, and so to encourage them to keep growing coffee, the coffee companies have created an incentive scheme. Frank Mechielsen from Oxfam states that:

Companies are afraid they won't have enough supply in the future"

These farmers leaving has led to a shortage of the highly-demanded beans that are used in single-serve coffee machines; so these steps are not being taken for purely philanthropic reasons, or because they are listening to consumers, but because there is a real commercial imperative to treat their producers more equitably.

On the second point, it is important to note that in spite of the motives, positive measures are being put into place in order to encourage farmers and to help them prosper and develop better skills. But it is possible that far more could be done, Mechielsen from Oxfam comments again saying:

It's good, but companies make big profits from coffee and spend much more on marketing"

This development is not dissimilar to the actions of Nestle and Mondelez earlier this year when they put their backing behind Oxfam fighting for women's right, especially in cocoa farming. Not only was there the motive to improve women's position in life and to fight for their equality, but again there was the self-interested motivation that it was in their best interests as businesses to support women's rights.

Ultimately, of course, the motivation is not the most important element of these programmes. These schemes are expected to yield real benefits for producers, they are ethical, they reflect well on the businesses involved and they satisfy consumers' ethical demands. It is important to understand the economic motivators that have come together in these decisions, but it is more important that business is taking an ethical lead and making people's lives better.

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