Direct Access Coffee is here!!! Okay, now, what is it? And why is it important?
Direct Access is a program that takes the specialty coffee industries greatest challenge—providing long-term sustainable incomes for smallholder farmers—head on with a truly unique solution. A significant amount of the world’s specialty coffee is being purchased from small farmers at such low prices that they won’t allow these farmers to stay in operation for much longer. And this isn’t just a few farmers we are talking about; roughly 70-80% of all the specialty coffee consumed on the planet is grown on farms that average only 7.5 acres in size.
Tackling this issue of low farm prices is important for multiple reasons. If you care about the rural livelihoods of small coffee farmers, many of whom are a part of multi-generation family farms, then you should care about the prices these farmers are paid for their hard work. Suitably paid farmers will stay in business. Those who are not well paid for their coffee will be forced to stop growing coffee at all and switch to crops that can actually make a profit. Alternatively, these farms might simply go out of business altogether, with the potential for much financial heartache in the process.
If you care about waking up to a cup of high-quality and great tasting coffee each morning, you should also care about the survival of small farms, as that is where most quality coffees are being collectively grown. If you don’t care, well, be prepared to wake up most mornings to some low quality, industrially grown, machine picked, coffee that tastes like the bottom of an ashtray in a 1970’s station wagon. We hope to avoid that personal fate, but most importantly, we hope to see our farm partners thrive and continue to cultivate one of the world’s favorite beverages for generations to come.
There are a number of direct trade and certification efforts attempting to better the livelihoods of farmers and promote ecological cultivation, so you might ask why we are different. In short, we can offer substantially better financial returns for our farm partners than most of these programs, and in the few cases where we cannot offer better financial returns, we offer the opportunity to impact a far greater number of farmers. We offer greater impact, and we are willing to prove that over time with transparency and hard numbers.
How do we actually create this impact?
We offer significant potential impact by re-engineering how coffee is moved and sold. Coffee, though a fairly simple product, has an incredibly complex global supply chain, with a significant number of middlemen involved between the farmer and the end-consumer. Each of these actors is typically buying the coffee at some degree of processing and re-selling it again to someone else further down the chain; it is incredibly transactional. There is true value added at many of these steps, and intermediaries do things like process picked cherries and transform them into export grade coffees and ensure that many farmers’ contributions are put together to create economical quantities to ship across the world. However, there are often middlemen involved who add little or no value, and at all steps in the supply chain, all parties are extracting profit.
At Direct Access, we enable our partner farmers and cooperatives to maintain ownership of their coffee from the time it is cultivated until it is sold into grocery or directly to an end consumer. It is the farmer selling to the grocer. Or it is the farmer selling directly to you through an online purchase. These coffees still must be processed and moved around the world, of course. However, by allowing the farmer to maintain ownership of their coffee, many of the intermediary steps and processes to include roasting the final product, are provided as value-added services to the farmer. By being provided as services instead of transactional exchanges, less profit is extracted and taken away from the farmer. This means that when you buy coffee direct from farmers, they are able too see a significant premium. In many cases, the Direct Access supply chain model is the difference between a farmer selling their coffee at origin at a loss or selling their coffee into the end market at a profit that can have truly positive benefits for their family and community.