Last week, we celebrated International Coffee Day by announcing a $4.5 million commitment to establish the CRS Coffeelands Program, a global effort to pursue our vision for the future of the coffee sector: smallholder coffee growers who are organized, profitable and resilient; coffee farmworkers who are dignified, engaged and empowered; and coffee-growing landscapes that build natural capital, mitigate the impacts of climate change and deliver more clean water to communities that lie downstream.
Bringing this vision to life, of course, depends in great measure on coffee companies whose policies and practices balance the pursuit of profits with a commitment to make the coffee trade more inclusive, more equitable and more ecologically responsible. That’s why we are creating the Coffeelands Advisory Council—a small group of coffee companies that shares our vision for the coffee sector and an interest in collaborating with us.
The Coffeelands Advisory Council will expand on a similar construct we have tested in connection with our work on the Borderlands project in Nariño, Colombia. The Borderlands Advisory Council involves collaboration with six companies in one origin; the Coffeelands Advisory Council will make room for a dozen companies or more and involve collaboration across all the coffee origins where CRS is implementing value chain projects worldwide.
Our Coffeelands Program will have full-time staff based in the following CRS regions: Central Africa (whose coffee-growing countries include Burundi, DRC and Rwanda), Central America (think El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua), East Africa (we are working in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda) and South America (where we are implementing projects with and through partners in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru). We currently have coffee-related programming in only a few of these countries, but we are actively pursuing new opportunities in others and have the potential to partner with industry allies in all of them. Members of the Coffeelands Advisory Council would identify priority origins in those regions for collaboration much like customers in a restaurant select items from a different sections of a menu, and would collaborate with other companies, CRS, CIAT and project participants in those regions and countries.
What Does CRS Offer?
In origins that are difficult to navigate, like Nariño, Colombia or Kivu in the DRC, CRS programs can help companies get access to great coffees they might otherwise find hard to source. In all origins, CRS channels project resources toward investments toward improvements in productivity and efficiency at the farm level, post-harvest practices and cup quality at the mill, and traceability and competitiveness at the enterprise level. Our explicit linkage of coffee value-chain programming with landscape-level water resource management efforts fixes our gaze on a long time horizon in the coffeelands, and roots the sustainability of our current coffee programming on the rehabilitation of the watersheds where coffee is grown. Our commitment to monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) means that our collaborators in the private sector have access to deep pools of farm-level data; our global research partnership with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) means they have help in making sense of project data and opportunities to participate in other research initiatives that can better inform decision-making. CIAT will also lead processes of business model innovation to identify new opportunities for value creation in the supply chain. And CRS embeds all this coffee work in a broad, holistic approach that builds the resilience and profitability of smallholder farmers.
Beyond creating these sources of value, the Coffeelands Advisory Council represents a rare platform for collaborative exchange at origin on supply chain practices among companies that are competitors in the marketplace.
Who is CRS Looking For?
CRS is seeking companies from different segments of the coffee industry that are, for starters, in deep alignment with our vision for the future of the coffee sector. Companies that make money with their supply chain partners and not off their supply chain partners. Companies that are comfortable with patient investment—of their time, resources or both—that generates financial returns while creating new sources of value for growers, farmworkers and farmer enterprises. Companies committed to supply chain transparency and willing to roll up their sleeves and work with CRS, CIAT and farmer enterprises to catalyze business model innovations. Companies that grasp the fierce urgency of now when it comes to adapting old ways of doing business for a climate that is changing at an accelerated pace.