Did I write yesterday in rebooting the blog that I will focus ruthlessly on our work in Colombia and Ecuador? Yes. And does this first post address something not directly related to our work in the field there? Absolutely. Why? Because World Coffee Development might be the single most important thing the coffee sector does—or doesn’t do—to address social, economic and environmental issues in the coffeelands before they pose acute threats to the coffee chain.
The coffee leaf rust crisis has consumed much of the bandwidth in coffee communications over the past year. It is worthy of our attention. But the rust crisis laid bare another crisis in coffee: a governance crisis. The coffee sector simply doesn’t have a reliable way to deal well with complex crises like the one created by the coffee leaf rust epidemic in Central America. There is no one place where everyone who has a stake in the future of coffee—industry, growers, banks, national coffee programs, research institutes, governments, donors, non-profits—naturally convenes to share intelligence and coordinate responses.
This is not to trivialize the extraordinary efforts made to date by individual actors in the coffee chain to address the current crisis in Central America.
Just last week, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Root Capital, Skoll Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank announced a $7 million public-private collaboration to stabilize coffee supply chains in Central America by building the resilience of smallholder farms. They unveiled it in El Salvador during Let’s Talk Roya, a solutions-oriented gathering on CLR conceived and convened by importer Sustainable Harvest. Back in April, the SCAA dedicated an entire day to CLR and coffee genetics during its annual Symposium in Boston. And World Coffee Research convened The First International Coffee Rust Summit in Guatemala—the single largest gathering on the issue to date, which succeeded in uniting for the first time all the actors who would need to be deeply involved in any comprehensive response to CLR in Central America. But many of the summit’s participants had little familiarity with one another, and no previous experience collaborating—they were coming together during a stand-alone event for the first time in the face of an emergency, with an urgent need to act.
Stand-alone events are invaluable when they convene actors across sectors. But they take a flash-mob approach to international development. A permanent institutional framework is necessary.
A small but growing group of influential people in coffee are working quietly to lay the groundwork for a global platform for cross-sector coordination around social investment in the coffeelands. It is being referred to increasingly as World Coffee Development.
WCD is to smallholder livelihoods what WCR is to research: an industry-driven organization working to ensure the long-term viability of coffee supply chains. WCD will provide permanent cross-sector coordination, not just to react to crises like coffee rust, but to work with diverse stakeholders to proactively identify, analyze and attack sources of risk in the coffee chain before they become acute crises.
With climate change accelerating, markets more volatile than ever and competition increasing, crises in the coffeelands are just going to proliferate if we don’t get ahead of them. Today it is CLR. Tomorrow, it will be something else.
How can you help make it happen? When the industry starts passing the hat for WCD as it did years ago for WCR, step up and contribute.
Sound expensive? Maybe. But failing to fund WCD seems certain to be much more costly.