• Introduction to quality control issues


    In many producing countries the liberalization of the coffee industry in the 1980s and 1990s meant considerable change in the way coffee was collected, processed and marketed. In some countries the situation went from total control of all aspects of the collection and marketing chain, to virtually no controls at all, referred to by some as anarchy. This is not to say that all had been well in those tightly controlled coffee industries, but quality did initially suffer in some countries. In recent years the pendulum has swung back and the need for quality standards is once again being recognized.

    Quality control at the primary (farm gate) level can assume different forms:

    • Government or coffee authorities attempt to 'police' harvesting, on-farm processing and drying. This is costly in terms of qualified staff and does not have a good track record.
    • Penalties are imposed for lower than average quality. This is passive quality control: it does nothing to encourage better than minimal or average quality.
    • Premiums are offered for better than average quality. This is active quality control: it rewards and encourages the production of better quality. It can be combined with a refusal to purchase inferior quality but this leaves open the question of what will happen to such coffee.

    Different producing countries have differing quality control systems and attach differing values to certain aspects of quality. General information on coffee quality standards can be found at www.iso.org (for instance, ISO 10470, a draft defect chart, but there are also many other ISO standards of interest to coffee exporters, including one detailing correct sampling procedures - look under ICS 67.140.20 Coffee and coffee substitutes). Information is also available from coffee authorities in producing countries.

    When setting quality limits one should recognize that without active quality control, such as paying premiums for better quality, the maximum permissible limit (on defects, for instance) quickly becomes the new standard. In setting export taxes care should be taken not to penalize producers of better quality who manage to obtain premium prices as a result of their effort.

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