Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A coffee matte, please

There are more people growing and picking the coffee imbibed in Sweden than all the people working in the Swedish farms and food industry together. How expensive would the cup be if those 200 000 persons had salaries on par with Swedes?

Together with Finns, the Swedes are the biggest consumers of coffee in the world, eight kilo per person in a year, or thousand cups. It is generally said that there are 20 million people engaged in coffee farming, including the pickers. And 10 million hectares are used for growing coffee. Considering that the Swedes consume one percent of all the coffee in the world, this means that 200,000 people and 100,000 hectares are used to grow Swedish coffee.

Compare that with the number of people working in/on the Swedish farms, which corresponds to some 65,000 fulltime jobs, and the food and beverage industry, about 50,000, and you can conclude that there are more people producing the coffee for the Swedes than their entire farm and food industry sector. But the payment to the 200,000 coffee producers is less than 1000 dollars per person and year. Or put in another way. The coffee producers get less than one fiftieth of the average Swedish salary. Coffee pickers earn as little as a few dollars per day. A study from Guatemala revealed that the pickers earned in average four dollars per day. But the actual salary is much less as they in the most cases their spouse and children helped picking without any salary whatsoever.[i]

And the area the Swedes use for their coffee production is bigger than the area used in Sweden for growing the staple food potato, and almost on par with the area used in other countries to grow soy beans for Swedish animal feed.

If you look at other countries, you can make calculations and conclude that 2,6 million persons work to produce the coffee drunk in the United States on a total area of 1,3 million hectares.  Or that there are 300,000 people and 150,000 hectares used for the British coffee consumption (Brits don’t drink a lot of coffee).

Enjoy the cup  – but remember that there are huge disparities in power and wealth that makes it possible enjoy it.

NOTE: the calculations are back of the envelope as there is a lot of uncertainty on many levels, starting with the number of persons working with coffee in the countries of production. The International Coffee Organization estimates that 20 million work in coffee of which 10 million farmers in Africa, 4 million in Asia, half a million in Central America and one and a half million in South America. In addition, some 3 million workers are employed, most of them in Latin America, where plantations are bigger.[ii] It is likely that not all of the 20 million work full time with coffee.The remuneration of the people is calculated with global production * coffee farm gate price / 20 million workers, which comes out on less than 1000 dollars. And even if labor costs is the lion’s share of the costs there are also other costs for seedlings, bags, fertilizers and pest control. Coffee import figures are complicated that some countries are re-exporting a lot of coffee; Germany is the second biggest coffee exporter in the world!
Perhaps there is a 25 percent error in my figures, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?

Obviously, if the people involved in coffee production had Western wages, there would be a number of changes:
1) coffee consumption would slump
2) coffee farming would be changed in the same way as farms have mechanized in the North. Shade coffee plantations on steep slopes would be replaces by monocultures on open fields where harvesting, pruning and other cultivation measures could be made with machinery.


[i] Verité, undated,  RESEARCH ON INDICATORS OF FORCED LABOR in the Supply Chain of  Coffee in Guatemala
[ii] ICO 2015, Sustainability of the coffee sector in Africa


  1. Wow! That is a pretty powerful comparison.

    1. Yes, sometimes it is very good to look at things from a macro position - sometimes it is just the opposite.