Coffee consumption is on the rise. As India, China and Latin America becomes accustomed to western lifestyles and their spending capacity increases, (specialty) coffee demand increases worldwide.
There are several challenges connected to the future of coffee. Arguably, the most well known is that of climate change. Whilst climate change will reduce the amount of land available to grow coffee by 50%, by 2050 (read this post about the required altitudes to grow coffee), with a drought in Brazil set to have an impact on the world coffee supply. There is an issue that hasn’t gained much attention. That is agriculture/coffee’s ability to attract and retain young people to grow, sustain and provide innovation in the industry. In some ways, in terms of the industry’s workforce, there is an issue of ‘population ageing.’
Whilst the Working paper ‘Who wants to farm? Youth Aspirations, Opportunities and Rising Food Prices’ by the Institute of Development Studies looks at agriculture as a whole, insights may be taken for the coffee industry. This blog post will look at some of the insights of the study.
The study found that there were 3 main ‘themes’ why young people are not attracted to agriculture/farming.
1) Lack of access – uncertain access to inputs and land
Today, young people have never had so much choice in choosing their vocation (education and access). Yet they are suffering from a global recession (high unemployment) and shrinking opportunities at every level (28).
Whilst youth are interested in agriculture, the lack of access to land and capital, are seen as impediments. The issue is, even if they do have access to land – the land is often small and fragmented, and they won’t have the ability to engage in skilled farming and agricultural technologies (36). Climate change also places pressure on rural occupations – pushing people out of agricultural activities. This makes agriculture an unattractive vocation to youth.
2) Public policy – lack of government investment in smallholder farming and access to markets
Lack of government support in training, innovation and access to markets (look at Rwanda as a counter example) makes the coffee industry an unattractive option. Youth are often unaware of the array of employment opportunities connected to the agri-business sector, and only see it as a labour intensive industry. They also lack positive, successful role models in the industry who promote different employment choices.
Even if they do enter the industry, the smallholder model may be more grief than relief. They are unable to engage in productivity gains and/or have access to the market. With the industry beheld to externalities such as international coffee prices, climate change, droughts, floods and disease (coffee rust) on their crop.
3) Social Change – Mass education provision and perceived decline in the status of agriculture
There is a perceived connection with formal education and working as a high status white collar professional. Accordingly as more young people gain formal education there is an increased attraction to non-agriculture professions. Indeed, lack of awareness of diverse employment opportunities in agri-business and a perceived lack in status of working as a farmer/labour intensive industry contribute to this.
A Bangladeshi farmer comments
A person wearing shirt and trousers [as distinct from the traditional lungi or loin cloth for men] appears to be a gentleman even if he is a robber and everyone respects him. On the other hand, no one respects the farmer living in the rural areas as they are doing farming activities. A lot of people state that farming is the occupations of illiterate people…(23-4)
What struck me with this was how a young person chose their vocation based on social perceptions of status. Also as women have more options for paid work outside the family and community now, women are moving out of labour intensive roles normally associated with agriculture (36). This change in social norms will also impact how the coffee industry looks over the next few decades.
As the increase and demand for specialty coffee increases, there has been an increased romanticism with farming, particularly from the ‘upper class.’ I note this as an interesting thought to close with as “… the poor who can get out of agriculture, do so, with upward mobility in mind. By contrast, the educated rich can indulge their fantasies of, rural life without ever having to ‘sit in the front seat.” (24)