Growing average cup of coffee requires 100 litres of water

New York, Aug 24 (IANS) More than 100 litres of water goes into growing an average cup of coffee. This and other factors have contributed to the plight of coffee farmers in poorer nations along the equator, a study says.

A University of Kansas (KU) researcher studying trade and globalisation has found that the shift to “technified” coffee production in the 1970s and 1980s has created harsher economic and ecological consequences for heavy coffee-producing nations, such as Honduras, Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, Vietnam and Ethiopia.

“Historically, coffee has been exploited by the West in various ways, because it is consumed in rich countries, and grown in poor ones,” said Alexander Myers, a doctoral candidate in sociology.

The shift to technified production – that requires farmers to exclusively grow coffee – has had a major ecological influence.

The traditional coffee growing method in smaller shaded areas needed much less water and also allowed farmers to diversify their crops and use their land to plant other crops as well, Myers said.

“Especially these peasant farmers who maybe have a small plot of land, they rely almost exclusively on coffee sales to sustain themselves,” Myers said.

Major drops in commodities prices of coffee beans to around $0.50 per pound in 2001 nearly wiped out economies of those nations.

“That really hit the farmers hard, and it caused a lot of these family farms that have historically relied on coffee to keep themselves afloat,” Myers observed.

The technification of coffee production also required a new type of coffee bean to grow effectively, but the process also required much more water to produce.

Some ecological researchers have estimated the average cup of coffee takes 140 litres of water to grow.

“It is very taxing environmentally,” Myers said.

“What we do matters. The choices that we make, the products that we buy have an impact on somebody,” he said.

Myers is scheduled to present his study at the ongoing 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Chicago.

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