Last Thursday, the Pacaya Volcano erupted. Then the next day, Tropical Storm Agatha rolled in, destroying lives, homes, bridges, roads and — yes — coffee. The storm is a reminder that all the hard work of smallholder farmers to produce high-quality coffees for the discerning specialty market can be swept away overnight.
Over the past week and a half, I have been posting on the issue of how coffee companies are investing at origin. Today: what they are investing in, and how that may be changing.
Over the the past few months, I have found myself talking with a broad range of stakeholders in the specialty coffee industry about how coffee companies are investing at origin. Here are some reflections on what I am hearing in those discussions and seeing in the field, and some ideas about the directions in which industry engagement in the coffeelands may be moving.
We have partnering with CIAT (the International Center for Tropical Agriculture) to implement a climate change adaptation project with funding from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Coffee Under Pressure: Climate Change and Adaptation in Mesoamerica (or CUP for short) is helping farmers assess their own vulnerability to climate change and adapt to changing conditions on the ground. We also hope this modest project can show a way forward in the ongoing search for cost-effective, scalable ways to bring actionable climate change research to smallholder farmers.
I met at SCAA with Thanksgiving Coffee President Ben Corey-Moran, who explained that the company will be focusing more moving forward on its “core business model.” As it turns out, his concept of the company’s core business model includes innovative partnerships with NGOs in East Africa to create incentives for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation. It seems the concept of the “core business model” in the coffee industry may be evolving.
Many of the threats to the sustainable coffee enterprise arise from beyond the coffee chain itself. Some of these threats, like climate change, are new. Others, like hunger in the coffeelands, are not. In all cases, they require a new kind of engagment and new investments at origin to create a truly sustainable trade in coffee.
Over the past few days I have highlighted some of the leading causes of food insecurity and preferred strategies for coping with hunger — issues I will present during Saturday’s Hunger in the Coffeelands panel at SCAA. If you read those posts, you know that the issue of food insecurity is complicated. Today I share some reflections on a framework for sustainable development that tries to make sense of it all.
The “sustainable coffees” segment of the specialty market is more crowded than ever with certifications and concepts that advance different — sometimes competing — ideas about what constitutes sustainability when it comes to coffee. I believe that all these approaches generate benefits and move in the right direction. The question I struggle with is how much benefit they need to generate — and for whom — to be truly sustainable?
Santa Anita de la Union, a community of families of ex-combatants in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, inaugurated a new ecological wet mill this week.
I have made my pre-conference picks for the highlights of the conference for anyone interested in the intersection between specialty coffee and development: lectures that seem to hold the most promise to illuminate some of the persistent challenges in the coffeelands — and some of the most promising approaches to addressing them. Biggest disappointment: nothing on the agenda about climate change and the threat it poses to specialty coffee.