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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Coffee crisis tops summit agenda
Coffee plantation
The plight of the world's coffee farmers topped the agenda at a specially-convened meeting in London on Monday.

Many coffee farmers are on the brink of starvation after prices plummeted to their lowest level for 30 years.

Over-production and an increase in poor quality coffee - particularly since Vietnam joined traditional coffee growing countries in Africa and Latin America - are to blame, analysts say.

But there is widespread disagreement on the best solution.

'Good intentions'

Oxfam is calling on the four main coffee roasting companies to give a fair price to farmers and end what it calls exploitation.

How can the coffee market be so rigged against the poor that they lose money for growing coffee, while the coffee giants' profits soar?
Phil Bloomer, Oxfam
Oxfam's head of advocacy Phil Bloomer said: "This opportunity to help the 25 million people who depend on coffee must not be missed.

"Since Oxfam launched its campaign to help coffee farmers in September 2002, governments around the world have sent messages of support and commitment - there has been a lot of talk and good intention but now we must see concrete action."

'Soaring profits'

Oxfam, together with the Global Alliance for Coffee and Commodities (GLACC), is urging the meeting to take a proposal for an independent commission on coffee and commodities to the G8 summit in France in June.

"How can the coffee market be so rigged against the poor that they lose money for growing coffee, while the coffee giants' profits soar?" Mr Bloomer added.

"Making the coffee trade fair is a crucial test of whether globalisation can be made to work for the poor as well as the rich."

The European Commission is expected to repeat its calls for a special fund to help coffee growers diversify into other crops.

The International Coffee Organization, which arranged Monday's summit with the World Bank, wants to drive up standards of production to boost prices.

A spokesman said the organisation wanted to remove "between 5% and 8% of the lowest quality coffee from the export market".


ICO executive director Nestor Osario said there was an "urgent need" for greater co-operation between agencies.

"By bringing together representatives of government, parliaments, industry and civil society I think we will be able not only to establish what are the problems but what could be the solutions to these problems."

Kevin Cleaver, director of agriculture and rural development at the World Bank, said: "In the short-term the key issue is addressing the impact of low prices on poor families that depend on coffee growing.

"But, at the same time we need to find alternatives to address the longer-term declining trend of coffee prices, and the periodic negative shocks from that trend."

Agricultural subsidies and protectionism by rich countries limited the options for diversification and "value-added processes", he added.

Andrew Walker, BBC Economics Correspondent
"Prices are now a quarter of what they were at their highs in the mid-1990s."

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27 Apr 03  |  Science/Nature
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10 Feb 03  |  Business
Oxfam launches 'Coffee Rescue' plan
18 Sep 02  |  Business

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