December 27, 2016

Can Education Keep Youths in Coffee?


Young people are giving up their parents’ professions, leaving the coffee farm to work in big cities. And the coffee industry is struggling because of it.

But imagine if these young people, after finishing their degrees, returned to the farms to put their newfound knowledge into practice. Imagine if they aspired to be producers, roasters, exporters and baristas – and they studied to advance those careers. Imagine coffee farms where you could find agronomists, chemists, social workers, lawyers, teachers, demographers, and more.

Because it doesn’t have to be a case of education vs coffee farming. In fact, I believe the solution to this “disappearing generation” lies in education.

SEE ALSO: The Film Asking If Teaching Children to Farm Can Stop Gang Crime

Lesi y Yuli

Lesi Ruiz and Yuli López, two young producers from Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Credit: PDG

Why Young People Are Leaving the Farm

I live in a producing country. And so I’ve seen firsthand what the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) reported on in 2014, and what the SCAA chronicled in 2015: many of our youth can’t envision farming as a part of their future.

Many don’t want to work with the land; for them, it’s not associated with progress. Or they’ve seen how their parents, whether they are producers or pickers, work so hard – and they don’t want the same life.

The IDS – which analysed smallholder farming of all crops, including coffee – also found that a lack of access to land and capital, and a lack of investment from the government, are key factors.

It all leads to the same point: coffee farming isn’t believed to offer a secure future.

But what if we change the way we teach the culture of coffee? And what if we seek alternative ways in which young people, no matter what they study, can contribute to the progress of our industry? Then it might just offer them that positive future they need.

Picking Cherries

Just the red! Youths learn how to pick coffee. Credit: Karla Ly Quiñones García

Supporting Youths Through Coffee Production

We need to show young people the immense satisfaction of working in this industry. We need to let them know that their hard work will be valued and respected. We need to assure them they will have a future.

In 2003, Carlos “Pineco” Pineda set up the first cupping school in Honduras. 100 students, mostly from producing families, learn better agronomic practices, milling and processing, fermentation and drying, and cupping. They then commit to advising producers in their home regions of the best practices in farming, processing, and cupping.

This school gives those children a future – one that is secure, one that is associated with progress, and one that offers a better quality of life than their parents have.

Coffee education

Students learn about roasting coffee at Carlos Pineda’s Cupping School. Credit: Carlos Pineda

Supporting Coffee Through Educating Youths

By providing a better future for youths, we also provide a better future for the coffee industry. We previously wrote about coffee borer beetle (broca) traps made from recycled plastic bottles. A small coffee farm – Selva Negra in Nicaragua – created them in their organic coffee lab. All that was needed was an understanding of the beetle, a little creative thinking, and waste products from around the farm.

Initiatives like this bring hope. It’s a solution so small and so simple, yet it could safeguard thousands of coffee cherries and help producers. And if more youths receive an education and then return to the coffee farms to apply it, then we are likely to see more innovations like this.

Imagine this generation, with its technology, curiosity, and thirst for progress, working with the knowledge and experience of existing producers and industry workers.

Long Miles Coffee, in partnership with Chez roasters, is currently working with unemployed youths in Burundi, with the Double Shot on their youth Coffee Scout program support.  They train these youths in agronomy and data collection. These skills are then used to improve the local coffee industry, for example by taking action against the potato defect. The youths also mentor other coffee producers in everything from pruning to bug protection.

As these young Burundians receive an education and a future in coffee, they help the entire community. They are securing the future of the local coffee industry.

Sorting cherries

Epa (left) teaches a farmer (right) about sorting cherries. Credit: Long Miles Coffee

Practical Ways Everyone Can Teach Youths About Coffee

I believe it is extremely important to start sharing the coffee industry with young people, even while they are in primary and secondary school. Why wait until they happen to have an encounter with coffee in their twenties, if we can create a passion and curiosity before that stage?

On top of my work at Perfect Daily Grind, I also teach in a school. And so I teach my students about the history and culture of coffee in our country. I take them coffee picking or to a roastery. I bring coffee beans, a grinder, and an AeroPress to my classroom and make coffee in front of them. And these children, some of whom have not seen green coffee or freshly roasted beans before – their eyes widen in wonder.

But all of us can help teach children about coffee, no matter where in the world we are or what our profession is. You can interview producers (via email or skype, if you cannot meet them) or local roasters. You can use Google Earth to take virtual tours of a coffee farm. You can make a V60 and let the taste and aroma incite their interest. You can teach them about trade models.

There are endless experiences you can offer young people, experiences that help them to understand and love our industry.

Picking coffee

A young person experiences picking coffee. Credit: K.Quiñones

Picture an agronomist, fresh out of college, working hand in hand with a producer. Or perhaps a teacher devoting their summers to teaching young people on coffee farms while their parents work. Or a tech-savvy Marketer building a farm’s brand via Instagram.

Nearly any industry can further enrich coffee – even those that were not acquired through a degree. This is about intentionally creating a space for our youth so they can see the possibility of working in coffee. It’s our responsibility to teach them about coffee and let them know how much we need their skills, energy, innovation and creativity.

Because that’s how we will ensure the future of this industry.

Perfect Daily Grind

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