The Coffee Paradox

Global Markets, Commodity Trade and the Elusive Promise of Development

Benoit Daviron and Stefano Ponte


The global coffee chain is currently characterized by a paradoxical coexistence of a 'coffee boom' in consuming countries and a 'coffee crisis' in producing countries. This book shows that the 'coffee paradox' exists because the coffee farmers sell and the coffee consumers buy embed increasingly different 'attributes'.
Can developing countries trade their way out of poverty? International trade has grown dramatically in the last two decades in the global economy, and trade is an important source of revenue in developing countries. Yet, many low-income countries have been producing and exporting tropical commodities for a long time. They are still poor. This book is a major analytical contribution to understanding commodity production and trade, as well as putting forward policy-relevant suggestions for ‘solving’ the commodity problem.

Through the study of the global value chain for coffee, the authors recast the ‘development problem’ for countries relying on commodity exports in entirely new ways. They do so by analysing the so-called coffee paradox – the coexistence of a ‘coffee boom’ in consuming countries and of a ‘coffee crisis’ in producing countries.

This book shows that the coffee paradox exists because what farmers sell and what consumers buy are becoming increasingly ‘different’ coffees. It is not material quality that contemporary coffee consumers pay for, but mostly symbolic quality and in-person services. As long as coffee farmers and their organizations do not control at least parts of this ‘immaterial’ production, they will keep receiving low prices. The Coffee Paradox outlines innovative ways of addressing this dilemma.

Author Bio

Stefano Ponte is senior researcher at the Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen. He is co-author (with Peter Gibbon) of  Africa, Value Chains and the Global Economy (2004) and author of Farmers and Markets in Tanzania: How Policy Reforms Affect Rural Livelihoods in Africa (2002). He has published extensively on commodity trade (especially coffee) and development, global value chains, the political economy of standards, agro-food markets, and rural livelihoods in developing countries.

Benoit Daviron is a French agronomist and agricultural economist at CIRAD. He is currently a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1. Commodity Trade, Development and Global Value Chains
  • 2. What's in a Cup? Coffee from Bean to Brew
  • 3. Who Calls the Shots? Regulation and Governance
  • 4. Is this any Good? Material and Symbolic Production of Coffee Quality
  • 5. For Whose Benefit? 'Sustainable' Coffee Initiatives
  • 6. Value Chains or Values Changed?
  • 7. A Way Forward


'An important contribution to the literature.'
Diego Pizano, National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia

'Daviron and Ponte have done a masterful job both of showing the limits to free trade in agricultural products as well as providing some concrete proposals as to what must be done to promote greater equity. This volume should be read by anyone who is interested in how international trade takes place on the ground as opposed to abstract theorizing.'
Lawrence Busch, director of the Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards, Michigan State University

'The authors blend theory and practice (including new data) to provide all those interested in coffee with new insights, ideas and perspective.'
Peter Baker, senior coffee scientist, CABI Commodities

'Ponte and Daviron bring fresh insights to the persistent difficulties of trade as a lever of development for poor nations. Their well-crafted and historically grounded arguments precisely characterize the important intangible attributes of value and market power and offer some stimulating perspectives.'
Daniele Giovannucci, consultant and author of The State of Sustainable Coffee

'Offers a fascinating account of how our favourite morning cup of coffee travels from poor producer regions in the Global South to relatively affluent consumer regions in the Global North. The book is theoretically sophisticated, empirically grounded, and goes the extra mile to identify promising pathways for fuelling development.'
Laura T. Raynolds, co-director of the Center for Fair and Alternative Trade Studies

'Raises interesting questions, using the example of coffee to explore a complex, but important subject.'
New Agriculturist

'An intriguing study... likely to make an important contribution to the research, debates and initiatives addressing the relationship between commodity trade and development.'
Douglas L. Murray, Colorado State University


Publication Date: 1 November 2005
320 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781842774571
eBook ePub: 9781848136298
eBook PDF: 9781848130593
eBook Kindle: 9781780327624
Library Edition: 9781842774564

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