When you think of a coffee plantation in India, do you think of a farm with its resident owner overseeing resident workers, operating within a fairly simple management plan? News from Financial Express paints a somewhat more complicated picture about a system adversely affected by labor shortages and absentee landowners.
Rajesh Ravi wrote this week that many coffee planters are worried at present because of a shortage of workers to pick the coffee harvest. They want to get the cherries picked before rain ruins the crop. Many young laborers have moved to cities to work in construction, which is booming in parts of India. At the same time, landowners have also moved to cities and many no longer live on their plantations. The family size has also decreased, so that source of labor provided by children has also decreased. The pay for picking has doubled since last year.
Some of the farm owners have sold their entire crop for what they can get, rather than lose out to the upcoming rains or deal with labor management issues. Wage-bargaining and work supervision are not an easy task for the landowners. Another response has been to decrease acreage under cultivation, which could affect coffee prices down the road even more. Ravi didn’t say how the “intermediaries” buying the crops deal with the labor shortage. Presumably they can pay higher wages, since they’re buying the crops at discounted prices and will reap the entire profit at market time. He also didn’t comment on how the coffee consumer might be impacted, though it isn’t hard to predict such pressures will drive up prices of Indian coffee.
This report is just another example of the pressures, influences and societal trends which impact the availability, quality and prices of our favorite beverage. Truly the story of coffee varies from region to region, but in each origin, there is a human story behind the beans that eventually end up in our grinders and brewers.