Family farms and plantations

Coffee is grown in more than 60 developing countries by around 25 million farmers. The majority of these farmers are smallholders farming less than 10 hectares. Some 70% of the coffee supply is produced by small coffee farms, 1-5 hectares in extent. The farms are usually run by family members but some hired workers might be required for harvesting.


In countries like Guatemala, Kenya, Brazil, India and Vietnam there are also large coffee plantations that cover hundreds of hectares. Generally, in the plantations further concentration of land, mechanization, and broader use of agrochemicals have lead to lesser demand of labour. Nonetheless, these plantations offer a high amount of employment, especially temporary work during the harvest period.


Workers in coffee farms and plantations can be categorised as follows:

  • Family producers: mainly family members. It is a common practice for family farmers to help each other out by pooling their labour, especially at harvest time. Also, many family workers take to harvesting in the plantations after harvesting their own fields.
  • Fixed salary labourers: monthly paid workers, who live on or near the plantation.
  • Temporary/harvest labourers: mostly migrant workers who specialise in harvesting crops such as coffee, tomatoes, fruit, etc.
  • Casual labourers: workers employed, between harvests, as and when agricultural work is available.

Social well-being

Coffee producers are hampered by serious problems like inadequate access to infrastructure, financial resources and market information. This directly impacts on the social well-being of farmers, plantation labourers and their communities. Typically, coffee is the primary source of cash income for coffee farmers. Therefore, volatile and declining coffee prices have a direct impact on access to education, housing, food, medical services, and their other basic necessities. In fact, incomes and working conditions, on plantations as well as family farms, are under constant pressure. Coffee producers are facing considerable sustainability challenges on the social, economic and environmental fronts. The coffee market continues to be a showcase of the need to address producers’ problems, on a global scale.