16 October 2018 | pacts insight | Views:

3 Ways to Keep Kids in Coffee: talkin’ ‘bout the next generation

Kids these days, right? All they care about is a comfortable and secure future, not willing to put up with poorly paid and back-breaking manual labour for the sake of the coffee industry - what are they like? Yeah, it’s true: there is a crisis when it comes to youth in coffee… but it’s not them that’s the problem.

The average age of farmers is creeping up (sitting at around 50-60 years old in Colombia), and that’s because coffee farming is no longer a realistic choice for young people. But what’s the reason for this, how big a problem is it, and how can we help to fix it?

Create Opportunities

One of the main barriers to the next generation staying in coffee is that it’s not a viable option. Not enough money, support or access to land means that they don’t have what they need to thrive in the industry. The Speciality Coffee Association said it best: “migration [from coffee] is perceived not as a choice but as a necessity”.

And the sad thing is, there is (for some) a will to stay in their parent’s industry - a study focused on the falling numbers of youth in agriculture noted that some see farming as an attractive “side job” due to its “entrepreneurial” and self-run nature… it’s just that rural sector jobs don’t pay well enough to support this. Young people have the will, but not the way. We need to change this, and make farming coffee a good life choice.

How we can do it

Young people everywhere generally have less money - that’s why they need railcards, university bursaries and help-to-buy schemes to give them that much-needed boost. So, if you want to create opportunities for young people in farming, it’s simple - give them a similar leg-up.

Nicaraguan cooperative, SOPPEXXCA, leads by example. They created a “loans for land” scheme to help young coffee growers get started - allowing them to own the land outright once loans are repaid. And our Three Phase Programme can also help young farmers strive for more, providing the funding needed to go from growing low-earning commodity coffee to high-earning speciality crops. There’s a lot we can do, we just need to actually do it.

Because if we don’t…

Coffee quality and quantities will fall. Young people are leaving coffee farming in droves, but that’s not the only issue - climate change, rampant coffee rust disease and other environmental factors means the industry faces severe challenges. With all that going on, it’s essential that best practices are upheld - namely the regular replanting of trees, essential to create healthy crops. Without a strong workforce to maintain this, the future of coffee, especially good coffee, is at risk.

Create Role Models

You can throw all the cash you want at young people… but, if they don’t think it will help, then you’ve got a bigger challenge on your hands. Almost as important as providing opportunities is providing inspiration. For young people who’ve grown up in struggling farms, choosing a life of mere survival would not seem an attractive one. And the only way to combat that is to show them success stories: create opportunities, to create role models which will give the next generation the will to try for a successful career in the coffee industry.

How we can do it

We’re proud to be a small part of creating role models for the next generation (and the one after that!): meet Samuel, grandson of El Silencio owner Oscar. After inheriting his farm, Oscar has grown it in size and quality - meaning we’ve been back year on year, to support his growth and business.

And it’s certainly had an impression on eight-year-old Samuel. Our work with Oscar means his education is now paid for, and he’s already passionate about using that for a future in coffee. Tending his own crops, he’s even produced a coffee by himself for Head of Coffee Will to try on a previous visit - that enthusiasm is essential, and down to him having a successful role model.

But it’s also important that more is done institutionally to create role models in this industry. Governments need to show through policy implementation and training provision that coffee farming, and agriculture in general, is “a valued sector”.

Because if we don’t…

Children won’t carry on working for the family farm. The average age of coffee growers will keep rising, and young people will be less and less likely to stay in farming. The current chasm exists partially as a result of societal changes, with young people (women in particular) having educational, employment and social opportunities they previously didn’t. Now they have options, so they aren’t forced to stay in a potentially dead-end career. And if that rural-to-urban migration continues, “there won’t be anyone left to grow the coffee we drink”, as Sara Lyons of the University of Kentucky says.

Create Prestige

If creating opportunities creates role models, than creating role models creates prestige. And by making coffee farming a well-regarded and highly respected career, more people will be drawn to it as a career choice - not just as a ‘back-up’.

Part of the problem is that young people have ‘higher expectations’ for their futures, and their parents starting to share this view - seeing further education and white collar jobs as something to aspire to. And this leads to farmers’ children seeing working in coffee as a “fall-back position”. And as formal education becomes accessible, this way of thinking becomes self-perpetuating.

But the problem is not that there’s increasing access to education - it’s the thinking that farming coffee is any ‘lesser’ of a lifestyle. That it’s hard work, with little financial reward. But that thinking can be changed.

How we can do it

There’s already some hope, with studies finding “optimism” about a future in farming - where access to education leads to more effective practices, which leads to more profitable farms. But to get there, it’s important that coffee growers are viewed differently. Not as uneducated, underpaid and overworked, but as thriving and knowledgeable business people.

We’re starting to see farmers bring a renewed sense of hope to communities already. José Ramon Collazos, grower of Buenos Aires, used his acquired knowledge and success to mentor local grower Orlando. His influence and support led Orlando to produce El Paraiso, the highest scoring coffee Will tasted on his recent trip. Local success stories beget local success stories, and that means growing speciality coffee becomes recognised as a skilled trade. We need to encourage that.

Because if we don’t…

Coffee farming will be devalued as a profession. Young people won’t even want to stay in coffee, even if they have the opportunity to or have happy memories of farmlife. It’s a cognitive shift that’s needed, to stop young people looking elsewhere - to office jobs, to further education, or even to jobs that are at least stable, if not thought highly of. As the Speciality Coffee Association has said, “it is imperative to engage with and invest in the next crop of agricultural leaders”. Because otherwise, the future of coffee looks uncertain.


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