Inequality has become one of the defining issues of our time. In the years since the global recession of 2008, the divide between the 1% and everyone else has spiked, creating new billionaires, populist movements, and a widespread consensus that the status quo is unsustainable.

Coffee is not immune from this spiking inequality. There is inequality between farmers who have boosted their yields and those who have not; between the various groups in farming, exporting, roasting, distribution and retail; and between growing and consuming countries. This inequality has put the future of coffee in jeopardy–farmers who cannot earn a living even as the industry as a whole grows at 5% or more annually will inevitably abandon their farms for opportunities in the city or in other crops.

Solving global inequality, or even inequality throughout the coffee industry, is a massive challenge, and well beyond Coffee Kids’ expertise or focus. However, we can create a new economic model in the communities where we work, to demonstrate local solutions for addressing inequality.

To create this model, we prepare our participants to work together to get onto equal footing with exporters, so that they can negotiate better prices for their beans. We also train them on how to incorporate more of the value chain into their own operations, and provide them with revolving loans to purchase the equipment they need to prepare their crops for market. Finally, we encourage and prepare them to set up supplementary businesses, so they are not dependant on coffee farming income alone.

We think of this as our coffee industry’s version of upskilling, or helping employees develop the new skills they need to thrive in a changing marketplace. Though coffee farmers are not employees, per se, the principle is the same: individuals who find ways to make themselves more valuable in a competitive labor market will have more leverage.

To be clear, growing inequality is caused by many factors, and it would be deeply unfair to put the onus of responsibility for fixing it solely on the people who are at greatest risk of being left behind. However, until we see systemic changes, Coffee Kids is doing what we can to empower young coffee farmers so that they do not get swept away in its tide.