When I first started reading blogs a few years ago, Technorati had a memorable quotation embedded in its banner: “There are 55 million blogs out there. Some of them have to be good.” By now I am sure the number is well over 100 million, and I can attest that some of them are indeed quite good. There are even some good ones that focus exclusively on coffee. So why do I think we need another blog on coffee? Because even in our current state of hyperconnectivity and infomediation, there are still real possibilities for discovery and growth in terms of our understanding of the coffeelands.
Yes, there has been a generation or more of work on sustainability in coffee supply chains. And yes, the pioneers of sustainable coffees have been on the leading edge of change in global food systems. For that, farmers and consumers concerned about people and the planet are grateful. But the industry still has blind spots when it comes to the coffeelands.
Why? Lots committed coffee buyers and Fair Trade activists focus primarily on farmer organizations, not farmer households, and they tend to come “to origin” during harvest time. We know because the hundreds of sleek websites dedicated to sustainable coffee and the reams of recycled-paper brochures next to the swizzle sticks in coffee shops feature rich photos of the red of the coffee cherries against the waxy green of the coffee leaves, the wholesome weave of the artesian baskets where those cherries are placed after they are picked, and of course the smiling faces of happy coffee farmers. But just about the time when the glare of the photo flashes and frantic activity fade, revenues from the harvest start to thin out, and millions of coffee farmers around the world settle into a season of want. In many cases, they work harder, eat less and migrate more to help their families meet their basic needs. Layer in climate change and the global food crisis to the mix, and things get more complex by an order of magnitude.
This blog will work to pull back the curtain on the secret lives of coffee farmers and help everyone concerned about the future of specialty coffee chains better understand the complex realities of life in the coffeelands. V.S. Naipaul wrote of “A Million Mutinies Now.” I hope not to write of mutinies, but there are certainly “a million dramas now” playing themselves out in the coffeelands well beyond the view of most of the coffee chain. My hope is that by shedding a little light on those dramas, I might contribute in some small way to the movement of coffee companies toward more sustainable sourcing practices, or increase the appreciation among the global tribe of specialty coffee addicts for the beverage that enriches our lives.