Daily Coffee News published my two-part article this week examining the unintended consequences of European Union Deforestation-free Regulation (EUDR) on small coffee farmers.
Part one sets the groundwork by describing the structure of EUDR and conditions faced by smallholder coffee farmers — specifically, through the lens of Timor-Leste. Part two discusses what may happen when EUDR’s structure and Timor-Leste’s conditions collide at the end of this year.
In the articles, I report findings from my academic research describing the challenges poor smallholder farmers face when attempting to comply with EUDR. Farmers who cannot comply or live in exporting regions branded “high-risk” by the EU will likely experience lower market demand and a price drop. The market disruption will force impoverished farmers to substitute coffee with other crops more directly linked to deforestation. As a result, I predict that EUDR will increase deforestation and food insecurity in many smallholder communities where coffee grows.
In its academic form, the assignment behind both articles had a 2,000-word limit and a short timeframe to research and write. While the conclusions reached by my report are sound, I acknowledge that more research is necessary to explore the issues presented and others.
I initially expected to write a report presenting a balanced view of EUDR, highlighting the human and environmental benefits that might come to the smallholders of Timor-Leste and the challenges to overcome. However, with each new data source uncovered, it became more apparent that EUDR is a credible threat to smallholder coffee farmers that appears likely to do more harm than good.
Next came the task of choosing what to leave in and leave out. Given the limited available time and page real estate, I opted for a direct narrative that used indisputable or otherwise verifiable facts.
For example, “Timor-Leste is poor” is not a controversial statement. “Coffee price crises cause deforestation and other bad things” has been thoroughly studied and proven true. I did not even expand on some of the more grim consequences of coffee price crashes resulting from market disruptions, for example, coffee’s role in the Rwandan genocides or tribal war in Papua New Guinea.
I considered other research questions but cut or minimized them in the report to avoid complex or inconclusive arguments. Among them:
- Is harm to smallholders in places in Timor-Leste an acceptable loss, considering the global impact of greenhouse gas reductions? This complex analysis involves a technical evaluation of EUDR’s worldwide impact and ethical debate of good for the many versus the few. I deemed arrival at a conclusion unlikely for this report.
- Is the “embodied deforestation” approach used by Europe effective? Some scholars disagree. The concept presumes that EU consumption is an absolute driver of deforestation. In the case of Timor-Leste coffee, I’ve presented the opposite in my report – that EU coffee consumption is preserving forests. The same may be true elsewhere.
- Who is likely to pay for implementation? I implied in the report that smallholders are most likely to absorb costs. Further arguments are needed to prove that consolidation of power in the coffee trade over the past two decades has shifted supply elasticities in favor of importers. However, it’s been my experience that those with the least power are most likely to pay, and smallholders have the least power.
- Are the EU’s claims of EUDR benefitting indigenous peoples credible? I left this angle unmentioned in my report. In coffee, cacao, and possibly other smallholder commodities, indigenous people seem most disadvantaged by the law, but I’d need more time to research this point.
- Will the EU be able to enforce these rules by 2025? The customs departments of each member state are responsible for enforcement. They will unlikely be ready based on private conversations with informed stakeholders. I have no public sources to cite, so it was better left out.
Environmental issues are complicated – often a collision of technical, social, and cultural considerations with as many possible viewpoints as viewers. Ecological problems are interconnected over great distances and through time, with the decisions of a few impacting the lives of many they will never meet. The case presented by EUDR is a textbook example of these challenges and the difficulties society faces in addressing them effectively and equitably.