The Role and Impact of Coffee in Global Development
- Read The Seattle Times article: Ensuring Coffee-Growing Communities Get a Fair Shot
Seattle will soon play host to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) whose annual exposition runs April 9-12 at the Washington State Convention Center. Featuring a full schedule of events to promote coffee’s unique history and taste to the world, the expo will include the World Barista Championships; lectures by experts on everything from bean to cup; coffee from Yemen, Brazil, Peru, Rwanda and Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee; and representatives from organizations such as Fair Trade USA, Stumptown and Seattle’s own Theo Chocolate. In all, Seattle will welcome 12,000 coffee growers, retailers, importers, exporters, non-profit organizations, companies and government trade ministries from around the world.
It is no surprise that the SCAA is returning to Washington state, after holding their 2014 annual event right here in Seattle. Home to a thriving coffee culture and some of the industry’s most recognized brands, the Daily Beast recently concluded that Seattleites consume more coffee than citizens of any other American city. We have 35 coffee shops for every 100,000 residents, and we spend an average of $36 per month on coffee.
Furthermore, Seattle-based organizations continue to lead in the creation of a sustainable value chain that leads to a world-class coffee experience. As we recognize Seattle’s influence on the future of coffee, Global Washington is exploring the role of coffee in international development and looking at how GlobalWA members contribute to sustainable economic growth through innovative programs in coffee communities worldwide.
Given coffee’s role in the economies of commodity export-heavy developing countries, a sustainable approach to coffee production and trade is imperative. As the International Coffee Organization and DR Wakefield report address, the coffee industry faces a litany of challenges. The most pressing issues are disease, climate change, urbanization and the loss of farmland, fluctuating prices, an aging workforce and urban migration. The coffee industry has looked at how to address these issues in ways that support the triple bottom line of profits, people and planet.
What is Sustainable Coffee?
The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable coffee comprises economic, social and environmental components that relate to the challenges facing today’s coffee industry.
The coffee industry employs roughly 100 million people worldwide, the majority of whom live in developing countries. Many small-holder farmers lack the business skills necessary to consistently produce quality coffee for the international market. Certifiers and roasters have invested in education programs since improved farming husbandry usually yields better coffee harvests and higher prices from companies looking for a stable and long-term supply of coffee. Farmers then use this money to access education, health care and food supply, thus raising their overall standard of living. Training programs also help farmers diversify their crops in order to weather price fluctuations that have historically hurt communities heavily dependent on one commodity.
Once coffee production becomes more stable and economically sustainable, it can have positive spillover effects on other areas of society as cooperatives and communities invest in improved facilities, risk management tools and education. Many organizations and cooperatives focus on institutional capacity building, gender-based programs that bring women into the formal economy or microfinance projects that support the local economy as it grows around coffee. These programs provide economic and social opportunities to young people who previously had to migrate to larger cities in search of work.
The coffee industry has been active in the environmental sustainability debate, as changes in climate inevitably affect the quality and taste of your latte. NGOs and companies are creating programs to improve farming practices and post-harvest processing, develop disease and drought-resistant varieties, enhance soil fertility and explore new production models. Whether in regards to deforestation, ocean acidification or drought, the coffee industry is exceptionally aware of the importance of a healthy environment in bringing coffee from bean to cup.
Most industry experts foresee global demand outstripping supply, especially due to growth in emerging markets like China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia. Much like the cocoa industry, coffee finds itself in a unique position. If we rely on yesterday’s solutions, we may find ourselves enduring the gray Seattle winter with neither cappuccino nor dark chocolate. Luckily, we live in a city with organizations that see coffee’s challenges as opportunities to “do well by doing good.” By strengthening the economic, social and environmental sustainability of coffee, several Global Washington members are building stronger communities along the value chain through innovative partnerships and programs that ensure the future of a product none of us want to go without.
- Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Island Association (BOSIA) encourages mutual understanding, education, friendship, cultural and peaceful exchanges between the people of Bainbridge Island in Washington and Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. Since 1990, BOSIA has imported coffee from Ometepe. BOSIA’s Café Oro coffee is Fair Traded, shade grown and certified organic, and all of the profits are used for projects suggested by Ometepe communities. More recently, a group of people who have been involved with BOSIA since its inception opened up Tostadores de Ometepe, which is located on the island. The coffee is roasted and sold locally, helping to create jobs and generate income for local communities.
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a variety of partners who are working in the agricultural sector and helping improve the lives of farmers. One of these partners is TechnoServe. With Foundation funding, TechnoServe has helped thousands of East African smallholder farmers enter the supply chain for specialty coffee. Through technical training and the formation of collaborative business partnerships along the coffee supply chain, TechnoServe has reached 195,408 farmers. Thousands of farmers now receive premiums on the coffee they harvest, have significantly higher incomes and have greater access to the global coffee market than ever before.
- Global Partnerships currently invests in a portfolio of 47 microfinance institutions, social business and cooperatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. One partner of GP is Crediflorida, a rural savings and credit cooperative located in the central, coffee growing region of Peru. Crediflorida provides small coffee farmers with access to tailored credit, crop-focused technical assistance and access to specialty markets. By combining credit with technical assistance, Crediflorida and Global Partnerships ensure that farmers invest in practices that will lead to improved crop quality and increased yield.
- Grameen Foundation uses mobile technology to improve access to information for the world’s poor. Increased access to information can expand agricultural capacity, support health and food initiatives and enhance the provision of financial services. Grameen works with a range of partners in the coffee and horticultural sectors. ASOBAGRI, for example, is a local smallholder coffee grower cooperative in Guatemala. ASOBAGRI uses Grameen’s data management tools to create farmer profiles and produce information about the region. This data assists the Grameen Foundation with helping Guatemalan farmers increase their productivity and improve their business practices.
- Oikocredit is a worldwide financial cooperative that promotes global justice through microfinance. Individuals receive microloans that are of small dollar amounts and do not require collateral, allowing the client to repay in small and frequent amounts over a long period of time as they focus on growing their business. Oikocredit has financed an array of projects pertaining to coffee farmers. For example, Oikocredit granted $500,000 to the Cooperativa Agraria Cafetalera Bagua Grande, an agricultural cooperative of small-scale coffee farmers in the northern part of Peru in the Amazonas region. The money has provided training and support for coffee farmers in a region that depends on agriculture.
- Oxfam focuses on tackling the conditions that cause poverty by advocating for new laws to help the world’s poor and offering direct support to impoverished people. Throughout the years, Oxfam has supported coffee farmers and raised awareness of the importance of Fair Trade. As global coffee prices have fallen, Oxfam has supported coffee farmers in their fight for fair treatment and better wages. Oxfam’s advocacy efforts include meeting with coffee corporations to push them to adopt fair business practices, providing farmers with new technologies and necessary supplies, and raising awareness of the importance of Fair Trade.
- Seattle University is the first Fair Trade University in the Pacific Northwest, and one of only 26 schools in the country to earn the designation. As part of the University’s journey to garner Fair Trade certification, a professor collaborated with students and colleagues at the Universidad Centroamericana Managua (SU’s sister school) to develop a new fair trade coffee. In partnership with farmers in the Nicaraguan coffee farmer cooperative CECOSEMAC, the sisters schools worked together to develop Café Ambiental, which is now sold by SU. SU has completed various other projects in conjunction with coffee growers in Nicaragua, including developing a more efficient and sustainable way to treat coffee wastewater.
- Theo Chocolate is the first Organic, Fair Trade and Fair for Life chocolate factory in North America. Theo believes that chocolate can and should be produced in an entirely ethical and sustainable fashion. All of Theo’s ingredients, not just its cocoa, are certified organic and fair trade. Theo’s Coffee and Cream milk chocolate bar, for example, contains coffee from Eastern Congo. A portion of the purchase price from the sale of every bar will benefit the Eastern Congo Initiative and help farmers earn a profitable and sustainable living. Theo also has a delicious classic coffee bar, which is made with organic coffee from local roaster Café Vita.
- Woodland Park Zoo supports a variety of environmentally sustainable projects. In 2009, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Project (TKCP) at the Zoo began partnering with local YUS landowners to help them address economic challenges. Through an existing relationship between the Zoo and Seattle-Based coffee roaster Caffe Vita, TKCP and the people of YUS began to sell Conservation Coffee on the international market. YUS farmers grow this coffee on small, sustainable plots and work together as a community to get their beans to market. The success of the program encourages other landowners to pledge their land to the YUS. More land pledges means more protection for species such as the tree kangaroo.