Boardroom briefing: coffee prices, advice for food entrepreneurs and dubious promises of aid money


Coffee farmers growing pains, how a woman launched a successful food business, and where is all the aid money pledged to Pacific nations? Readings from around the world on business, leadership and management.

Coffee growers diversify to survive

Coffee roasting. Credit: Pacific Islands Trade & Invest.

Coffee prices continue to hit record lows and growers are in Papua New Guinea and other coffee-producing nations, including Colombia, are struggling.

In Colombia, the third largest coffee producer in the world after Brazil and Vietnam, a 12.5-kilogram bag of coffee costs US$22 (K75) but growers are getting paid an average of US$21 (K71).

Over 540,000 Colombian families rely on the coffee sector to survive, and now they are trying to diversify to save their livelihood. For example, some have opened their doors to tourism, others have given up coffee and are now growing sugar cane, and a few are considering selling their plantations.

The coffee price has dropped from US$1.50 (K5) per pound in 2016 to less than US$1 (K3) in 2019. Production for 2018/2019 is estimated to be 167 million bags (of 60 kilograms each), which is higher than the current global consumption of 165 million bags.

According to Digital Journal’s Lina Vanegas the Colombian government has announced US$80 million (K272 million) in aid to help coffee farmers. The Café for Change organisation, which was founded by Fernando Morales de la Cruz, is trying to find a solution to get a more equitable distribution of the coffee industry profits – on average a coffee farmer gets 0.02 cents per cup of coffee sold.

In PNG, more than 400,000 households rely on coffee as a source of income.

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Advice for entrepreneurs: surround yourself with smart people

Gail won the National Woman Business Owner of the Year Award. Credit; Caulipower/Facebook

With PNG standing ready to become the ‘food basket of Asia’, perhaps now is the time to start thinking about the future and how food entrepreneurs can disrupt the market.

Gail Becker, journalist, mother of two boys, and now award-winning businesswoman, had no experience in the food market until she discovered her sons needed to go gluten-free and couldn’t find enough healthy (and ready-to-serve) options. So, what did she do?

She founded Caulipower, a food company that sells frozen gluten-free pizza bases made out of cauliflower and other gluten-free products, including chicken nuggets and sweet potato toast.

Gail had no experience in the food industry, but she researched, participated in expos and hired people who could help and teach her. In her own words: ‘The point is, everyone comes to the table with something and that is what you should lead with and what should give you confidence. It’s really important to know what you don’t know. I felt comfortable with marketing, but I was very confident that I knew nothing about anything else, so I hired really smart people to teach me. Sometimes entrepreneurs make the mistake that they think they know everything. So get a really good grasp of what you know and feel excited about. Then feel really good about hiring people around you who can fill in the gaps. That is how you succeed.’

You can’t always get what you want

Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial district, China. Credit: Chuyu

There is a big difference between the promise of aid in the Pacific and actual delivery. According to data from the Lowy Institute, in 2017 US$8.16 billion was promised for the Pacific, but only US$2.25 billion was spent. PNG was promised US$6.07 billion but only received US$653 million. Who’s breaking its promises?

The big over-promiser appears to be China, which was not even listed in the top five donors in 2018. Between 2011 and 2017, the country only spent 20 per cent of what it pledged. Australia, by contrast, spent 96 per cent of what it promised over the same period.

The figures for 2018, which are not yet complete, suggest that the pledges are easing off – US$835 million were pledged but only US$774 million was spent, with China contributing US$71 million.

There is growing evidence that China is running out of foreign exchange to support its external currency, the yuan, so it is likely that the Asian giant will not be making too many big promises of aid in the short term.

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