Lack of trust a problem in local coffee industry

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

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Dear Editor,

One thing that Jamaican coffee farmers need to understand quickly is that they do not sell coffee as a drink. Rather they sell a raw material known as cherry berry, which is the most rudimentary element in the entire coffee beverage value chain.

Secondly, they must realise that they are not negotiators at the table setting the price for coffee as a beverage, nor are they properly enlightened on issues like price volatility within the trade or the devaluation dynamic.

This coffee beverage is largely consumed in shops, homes, hotels, and airports the world over in usually pristine and inviting surroundings.

Those buying the coffee farmer's product happen to be entities described as deregulated purchasers operating grimy-looking outposts called depots or bins, located at several points islandwide.

Now, most farmers, having collected part proceeds for their cherry berry on delivery at the bin, harbour quite justified expectations to also benefit from the pricing mechanism which chips in at the the end of the value-added and conversion process, where this new product is now known as coffee beverage.

The farmer must also understand that since he has long ago relinquished custody of his cherry berry, then when the value chain is completed at a considerably higher value, as is often assumed, he must either accept what he is told by those deregulated local buyers who make it their duty to marshal the process all the way, or he is going to have to devise the means of doing his own tracking. It is as simple as that.

What currently obtains is that due to the lack of the farmer's own mechanism to track the system for processing his berries, he allows himself to become vulnerable to the dictates of Wallenford, Mavis Bank, Coffee Traders and like buyers, as to the final outcome of price and quality for the converted berries.

These entities which trade the coffee overseas must themselves be ready to challenge the veracity of statements made by the coffee-consuming countries, and even engage in blistering negotiations to eke out top prices which they must pass on as obligatory.

This then leads to the industry being riddled by mistrust, suspicion, and “grape vining”.

It is this mistrust which needs to be solved if the farmers are not to be perpetually restive and put the whole industry in greater dilemma.

Farmers must also educate themselves to the fact that consumption patterns for coffee beverage have shifted. Young people in Japan, for example, are not necessarily following their grandparents' traditions in holding Blue Mountain coffee in revere.

As a result of their economic reality, it appears that they have become satisfied with a vastly inferior brew. Therefore, the windfall dream prices, when they were being paid, should have been partly isolated by the local industry for use, not so much in the midst of the crisis, but 10 or 15 years ago to mount trade shows, overseas promotions, and marketing events for which we would be reaping vast benefit now.

It seems that apart from the number one mistrust factor which plagues the industry, short-sightedness and ill-timed inferior imports will rank as second and third respectively in defining the woes of Jamaica's treasured coffee industry.

Derrick D Simon

Golden Spring

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