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.
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.
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.
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.