2020 has been so far different, unimaginable and anything but predictable. Overnight our daily routines were turned upside down, our lives changed, and the world was put on hold.
Even though we are slowly returning back to normal, the effect COVID-19 has had on the speciality coffee industry will continue for months to come. Last week we caught up with our coffee hunting partners to discuss the effect pandemic has had on our industry from the coffee shop all the way to the farmer, and what we can all do to help.
Since the Government instructed all ‘non-essential’ businesses to close their doors at the end of March, the flourishing coffee scene was halted. The majority of coffee shops closing their doors for business, had a snowball effect on the industry from the UK high street, all the way down to the producers. The demand for speciality coffee decreased overnight, even with people starting to consume more coffee at home didn’t make up for the loss due to cafes shutting their doors because of the pandemic.
The farmers producing our amazing coffees rely on us to purchase their crops year after year, which allows them to not only support their families, but to reinvest in their farms to ensure the production of a better quality coffee from the following crop. With cafes being closed, roasters had no choice but to order less coffee, or cancel on agreed coffee shipments. That has led to importers cancelling coffee contracts with producers, and therefore producers forced to find other channels to sell their raw coffee through. We are very fortunate not to have to do that and we are proud to be working with a partner that has honoured all coffee contracts agreed prior or during the pandemic outbreak, meaning the amazing producers we work with, and the incredible coffees we are lucky to have access to, are protected.
Although this might be the most obvious effect COVID has had on the industry, it isn’t the only one, and by far not the worst. The spread of COVID across the producing countries has had different effect depending on the harvest time and the restrictions imposed by local Governments. Countries like Costa Rica where harvesting, processing and shipping happens at the beginning of the year didn’t experience a significant disruption due to the virus. But for other countries, such as Honduras and El Salvador that had restrictions imposed at the end of the harvest, the process of shipping samples and agreeing contracts was stalled for months, leaving farmers feeling vulnerable and uncertain about their crop and livelihood. Uganda transports it’s coffee through Kenya and as the country shut it’s borders due to the pandemic, it left Ugandan coffee stuck at the border for over a month until logistics were sorted.
Apart from the transport disruption, the lack of pickers at this crucial time of the journey of the coffee can have further disastrous effects, leaving farms without the crucial labour force to move the coffee from the fields. Workers going into self isolation, or not being able to get to the farm due to lockdown measures has put farmers under unprecedented pressure.
It is uncertain what the next few months hold for the speciality coffee industry, but we know that industry solidarity is vital for our future. We are lucky to be in a country where the Government has been continuously providing financial support for businesses and individuals. However, this is not the case for most coffee producing countries. Without the support of the speciality coffee community, there could be a devastating and long lasting effect on many coffee producers.
We are upmost grateful for all our lovely customers who keep supporting us and the local independent coffee shops and therefore the wonderful farmers we are fortunate to work with!