Fairtrade Coffee

Coffee is such an integral part of everyday life that few of us stop to think what goes into growing the beans that make this hugely popular beverage.

 

The history and importance of coffee

Legend has it that the energising effect of the coffee bean was first recognised by a 9th-century goatherd in the Kaffa province of Ethiopia, where the coffee tree originated. Coffee was almost certainly cultivated in Yemen long before the 15th century when Sufi mystics reportedly drank it to keep awake during extended hours of prayer. The drink was spread by Muslim pilgrims and traders across North Africa and the Middle East, where Arabian coffeehouses became centres of political activity. The Dutch planted coffee in Sri Lanka, India and Java in the late 1600s and later in South America. Within a few years Dutch colonies became the main suppliers of coffee to Europe, its production associated with colonial expansion and slavery. Coffee soon became one of the most valuable primary products in world trade. The first UK coffee house was opened in Oxford in 1650, followed two years later by one in London.

Global coffee consumption doubled over the last 40 years from 4.2m tonnes in 1970 to 8.7m tonnes in 2015. Coffee producing countries consume 30 per cent of the world’s coffee, led by Brazil whose consumption reached 1.2 million tonnes in 2015. The remaining 70 per cent of coffee produced is traded internationally; the US is the biggest importer, followed by Germany and Italy while the UK is the 8th largest importer accounting for 3.6% of world coffee imports.

Coffee is grown in more than 70 countries but over 60 per cent of the world’s coffee is produced by just four of them – Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia. Latin America is the largest regional producer with a 60 per cent share, followed by Asia and Oceania (27%), and Africa (13%).

For countries that produce it, coffee exports generate a significant proportion of national income and are a vital source of the foreign exchange earnings that governments rely on to improve health, education, infrastructure and other social services. For instance, Burundi relies on coffee for 60 per cent of its export earnings, Honduras for a quarter, Nicaragua for nearly a fifth. In Ethiopia, 15 million smallholders, nearly a fifth of the population, depend on coffee for their livelihood – high global commodity prices contributed to record coffee exports in 2010/11 which accounted for 30 per cent of the country’s total export ea

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