Today is National Coffee Day--here's an excerpt from Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Fair Trade, Sustainable Livelihoods and Ecosystems in Mexico and Central America, edited by Christopher Bacon et. al, to go along with your cup of afternoon joe.
Brazil and Vietnam have reshaped the world's coffee supply. Before 1990, Vietnam was barely a statistical blip in the coffee world, producing just 1.5 million bags. Its agricultural economy was opened to the world market during the 1990s, with the government providing irrigated land and subsidies to encourage resettlement by farmers into coffee production. By 2000, it had become the second-largest producer in the world, with 15 million bags to its name, largely produced on small farm holdings. Brazil, on the other hand, is not a newcomer: it has long been the world's largest producer, but production has recently been boosted by changes in how and where coffee is grown. Increased mechanization, intense production methods, and a geographical shift away from the traditional, frost-prone growing areas have all increased yields.
Though production levels in Brazil will rise and fall over time, the country's ability to produce profitably even at low world prices renders growers in many other regions powerless in the market. As a result of Brazil's unprecendented capacity and efficiency, the impact for traditional coffee-producing countries is serious. Patrick Installe, the Managing Director of Efico, a green coffee trader, elaborates: "To give you an idea of the difference, in some areas of Guatemala, it could take over 1.000 people working one day each to fill the equivalent of one container of 275 bags, each bag weighing 69 [kilograms]. In the Brazilian cerrado, you need five people and a mechanical harvester for two or three days to fill a container. One drives, and the others pick. How can Central American family farms compete against that?" (Installe 2002)