July 4, 2019 / 4:40 AM / 20 days ago

Coffee farmers meet in Brazil amid crisis, seek alternatives

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Organizations representing coffee farmers from around the world will meet next week in Brazil as the sector faces one of its hardest times, with prices barely covering production costs and pushing farmers out of business.

A worker arranges harvested coffee cherries inside a tractor in a plantation in the town of Sao Joao da Boa Vista in Sao Paulo state, Brazil, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

Brazil’s city of Campinas, in the southeast state of Sao Paulo, will host the 2nd World Coffee Producers Forum on July 10-11. The first edition was held in 2017 in Medellin, Colombia.

Organizers of the global conference say the main objective this year is to look at ways to improve the economic sustainability of producers.

“In Medellin, the target was to find a way to mobilize producers, to have a coordinated forum to discuss our issues,” said Vanusia Nogueira, one of the organizers.

“Prices only fell from there on, so now we need to discuss alternatives to improve income for farmers,” she said.

Coffee prices in New York reached a 12-year low in May at 86 cents per pound. They recovered slightly recently, mostly due to expectations for a harsh winter in Brazil, but are still at around 110 cents per pound, a level seen by many producers as unsustainable.

José Marcos Magalhaes, head of Minasul cooperative and member of Brazil’s National Coffee Council (CNC), said some of the issues to be discussed relate to the way coffee farmers sell their crops.

“We need to use technology, new apps to facilitate and speed up sales. Producers need to have ways to take opportunity of moments when prices rise,” said Magalhães, who is also helping to organize the meeting.

Nogueira said some participating countries suggested the forum needs to discuss ways to control the flow of coffee from producing countries to the main consuming centers, but there was no consensus. Brazil opposed restricting supplies, she said.

“The coffee market is a free market, that was out of question,” she said.

But the organizer said other initiatives regarding prices, such as establishing a floor value similar to what the main cocoa producers in Africa are trying to negotiate with processors, could be discussed.

The Colombian coffee federation suggested this week a $2 per pound floor value for coffee as a way to provide fair returns to producers and keep farmers from reducing production or abandoning the sector.

Magalhaes said producers’ share of the revenues coffee generates worldwide has fallen continuously.

“We need to find options to stop that trend,” he said.

Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Tom Hogue

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