The big role of smallholders
The coffee industry is remarkable due to the sheer number of people it affects. The decisions made by smallholder farmers rapidly ricochet up through the regional, national and international levels. In turn, high level governmental policies have an extensive impact on farmers.
Today we focus on an excellent article that highlights the significance of coffee to Ethiopia. We thoroughly recommend giving the article a full read and therefore we will not summarise it in this post. Instead, we will focus on some of the facts that were provided throughout the article. Our goal in this blog post is to visualise some of these statistics, thereby helping illustrate the overarching discourse of the article. Our primary goal is to emphasise the value of smallholder farming at a national level.
Scale of the industry
One of the hardest statistics to comprehend is the colossal scale of coffee production worldwide. Ethiopia produces an astounding 384 million kg of coffee in a single year. Surprisingly, much of this coffee is produced on plots of land ranging between 1-5 ha.
National coffee production is typically provided in terms of 1000’s of 60kg bags. However, as this is very difficult to relate to we turn to the comparative weight of a quintessential “large thing” – a fully grown African elephant. It is only within this context that you can begin to understand the enormity of coffee production worldwide. In the diagram below each elephant icon represents the weight of 10,000 fully grown (7 tonne) African elephants.
Take a moment to think about this. Nearly all of this coffee was picked by hand, one cherry at a time. Getting all of these beans from farm to cup requires an immense coordination of effort and resources.
Such vast production seems almost unbelievable, but where does Ethiopia fit into to the global rankings of coffee production? Coming fifth, Ethiopia is only narrowly out-produced by Indonesia and Colombia. However, the real big producers are Vietnam and Brazil. When you compare the production of Ethiopia to Brazil you can really see the gulf that has developed over the past few decades.
There are both pro’s and con’s to the flooding of the market by countries such as Brazil and Vietnam. However, it is clear that much of the increase in production has been enabled by increased government intervention. Typically smallholders do not have access to the same level of support and hence struggle to generate the steady quantity of coffee demanded by some of the larger coffee roasters and retailers.
As you would expect for an industry of this scale, coffee is of central importance to Ethiopia’s economy. Agriculture as a whole contributes 41% of Ethiopia’s GDP, more than twice that of industry (15%). Agriculture is also by far the greatest employer, with 85% of the population earning their living as a farmer.
Our final figure in this blog post illustrates these two key aspects.
From this figure we can clearly see that agriculture is vital for Ethiopia, not just because the income it raises but also due to the number of people it employs. Coffee forms a large proportion of this agricultural work hence the Ethiopian government’s focus on improving and developing this sector.
Looking to the future
From the above infographics we hope we have given you a clearer idea of just how influential coffee is in terms of the number of people it affects and the livelihoods it provides. It is well documented that due to climate change these benefits are going to recede and we will begin to lose this truly global drink. It is only through adaptation techniques that farmers can adjust to this new future and look forward to improved yields and better quality coffee.