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369. Epilogue

2013-07-15 Comments Off on 369. Epilogue

The CRS Coffeelands Blog published perspectives from the intersection of coffee and international development from 2009-2013.

We launched the blog because we believe that despite a quarter-century of investment and innovation to get closer to the source of our coffee, “there are still real opportunities for discovery and growth in terms of our understanding of the coffeelands.”  In our inaugural post, we articulated the mission of the CRS Coffeelands Blog in this way:

We are trying to pull back the curtain on the secret lives of coffee farmers so that everyone concerned about the future of specialty coffee chains better understands the complex realities of life in the coffeelands, where we live and work everyday.  Our hope is that by shedding a little light on the dramas that play themselves out here every day in coffee-growing communities, this blog might contribute in some small way to the continued movement of the coffee industry toward more sustainable sourcing practices.

For nearly four years, the blog published dispatches from the field in service of this mission, gaining along the way an influential readership within specialty coffee.  The blog engaged roasters, importers, certifiers, and other industry leaders in public discussion of key issues in sustainability–discussion that was always thoughtful and sometimes pointed.

It was not a stranger to controversy.

In 2011, Fair Trade USA withdrew from the global Fair Trade Certification regime in 2011 and rewrote the rules of Fair Trade Certification for the U.S. coffee market under its Fair Trade for All initiative.  CRS engaged the process critically, both on the blog and in the field.  Our coverage of Fair Trade for All was widely read and cited; the debate here over the initiative was…spirited.  We were commended (mostly offline) for our efforts to take a balanced, evidence-based approach to FT4All; we were condemned (mostly online) by old friends and longtime collaborators for our decision to participate in pilot projects certifying independent smallholders in Colombia.  During that time, the venerable progressive magazine The Nation called the blog a “vital forum for discussion” of changes in the Fair Trade system.

In 2012, CRS again waded into controversy–this time over the contested concept of fine Robusta–when it sponsored the “Let’s Talk Robusta” track at Sustainable Harvest’s annual Let’s Talk Coffee event in Colombia.  Influential voices in specialty coffee have protested noisily over the very idea of specialty Robusta, which they see as a contradiction in terms.  Former World Barista Champion Alejandro Méndez captured specialty’s disdain for Robusta more memorably than most when he told me: “Robusta is like a monkey.  You can teach it to talk, but it will never be a human being.”  CRS persisted, however, in pushing the discussion of fine Robusta here, and continues to pursue opportunities in the emerging market for quality-differentiated Robusta, which we believe has real potential to help insulate farmers from low and volatile prices in the Robusta market.  (We are underwriting “Let’s Talk Robusta 2.0” at this year’s Let’s Talk Coffee event in El Salvador.)

Less controversially, the blog provoked thoughtful discussion over efforts to measure the impact of different approaches to sustainability in the coffee trade.

It explored innovations in business models designed to make the coffee trade more inclusive.

And it published hundreds of photos from the field, including The Coffeelands Portrait Project, which continues.

In 2013, the blog’s coverage of coffee leaf rust–in particular the social and economic implications of the coffee rust outbreak in Central America during the 2012/13 crop year–was widely read in the coffee industry and international development community.  It prompted the provocateurs at the online coffee tabloid Sprudge to proclaim:

The CRS Coffeelands Blog is one of the most important coffee publications in the world.