The COVID-19 effects are continuously being felt across the globe, with most of the countries under lockdown to reduce the spread of the virus. The changes in consumer habits, as a result, have had devastating implications on the different industries, and coffee is no different.
The coronavirus crisis is impacting every aspect of the coffee supply chain in some way — from the smallholder coffee farmer, to the exporter, to the roaster, to the consumer. As stay-at-home orders have become more widespread, many people have transitioned from drinking coffee at work or at a cafe to drinking coffee only in their homes. These changes in demand are having ripple effects throughout the whole supply chain.
While coffee sales at cafes and restaurants have plummeted due to COVID-19, home consumption has soared, with some supermarket chains in the United States reporting coffee sales up by 250% in recent weeks. Some specialty coffee companies that rely on cafe and food service sales have been hard hit, which has had a knock-on effect for the farmers who sell a large share of their coffee to these companies. However, most farmers, cooperatives, and exporters have a diverse set of buyers and are not seeing a significant impact on sales. Traders are reporting that they’ve been able to manage the few contract cancellations by finding new buyers in Asia — where sales are rebounding — or by canceling contracts for large diversified exporters who can cope with the cancellation.
Stable international prices
On the other hand, and fortunately, international coffee prices have not fallen as has been the trend with other agricultural export crops like cocoa, cotton, and cashew nuts. Mitigations have been put in place like wet mills that process cherry coffee which are operating in Kenya and DR Congo with social distancing and hygiene controls in place. This means that inasmuch as coffee exports may continue, there will definitely be significant risks of disruptions to supply chains because of the pandemic.
The main point of concern however, is the health of coffee farmers over this period. This is because if the virus begins to spread through coffee communities with limited healthcare services, the impact could be severe. The impact would vary depending on the populations in coffee communities. For instance, coffee communities with young populations may be less affected when compared to communities with older populations which could be especially susceptible to the virus.
Challenges faced by coffee farmers
Coffee farmers in communities where COVID-19 has spread are being affected in three ways. First, farmers who hire outside labor are reporting labor shortages, as farm laborers are either afraid or unable to travel. Farmers around the world are paying higher transportation costs to get their coffee to market. Finally, agro-inputs such as fertilizers are not readily available in some rural communities because of shop closures. More coffee farmers are likely to experience these disruptions in the coming months as the virus spreads to more coffee communities.