As the coffee price crisis looms over general discussions around coffee, there has been a push to study causes and solutions in the academic world. The Re:Co Symposium hosted by the Specialty Coffee Association this last year in Boston was centered around the coffee price crisis, and one of the featured speakers was Dr. Janina Grabs, a postdoctoral researcher at ETH Zurich’s Dept. of Humanities who focuses on sustainability and food policy. Although Dr. Grabs' talk hasn't been posted online to view yet (you can view other talks here), there is a very distinct metaphor that she borrowed to start her talk with:
In a crowded theater, if there's a fire, everyone will be trying to escape through the same fire exits. Presumedly, this mad dash for the same exit would create a heavy backup, with many people then trapped and unable to get free. In many ways, the idea of paying higher premiums for higher quality coffee is a fire exit: this strategy can work for some coffee farmers, but is unlikely to provide a solution to the coffee price crisis that is sustainable for everyone. If every farmer demands a higher premium for higher quality coffee, the market will be saturated and prices will go down due to competition.
Sourcing coffee at Ruby has limited impact for the coffee growing world as a whole, but we feel that Ruby can make a big impact for the individual farms that we partner with and with the import and export groups we work with. Previously we've examined in this series ideas that address the fire exit theory through initiatives that purchase a wider swath of coffee from single estates and small groups, but with Ruby's two latest releases, we want to examine how other initiatives can help address the core coffee price crisis.