The Blog

view all

The SCAA Event: Annual Coffeelands Preview

2016-03-22 Comments Off on The SCAA Event: Annual Coffeelands Preview

In less than one month the gavel will sound to open The SCAA Event.  That means it’s time for the annual Coffeelands preview of The Event’s best “origin content.”

In my 2012 SCAA preview post, I divided my picks into three “streams of enlightenment”—“downstream” presentations that push knowledge of origin toward the marketplace, “upstream” presentations that bring market intelligence to farmers, and a third category of presentations critical to our “shared future” that defy such easy categorization.

After thorough review of the outstanding lineup of lectures in the 2016 program focused on origin and sustainability, and careful consideration of the issues those lectures address, I find it hard to escape the conclusion that such distinctions are increasingly artificial.  That the extraordinary interdependence of supply chains beset by a growing number of challenges makes “we” a better frame than “us” and “them.”  That the most appropriate way to topics related to origin and sustainability as issues that are all vital to our shared future.  The challenge I see for participants in The SCAA Event next month will be choosing which lectures vital to our shared future to attend—there are only five sessions but by my count more than three times as many “can’t miss” lectures.

Today I profile each of those lectures and provide links to “pre-reading” for lecture-goers who want to bone up on the issues in advance.

Download a PDF version of this post here, and a schedule of Coffeelands picks here.




Session 1: 09:00-10:15


Water in the Coffeelands: How Coffee Can Make Water Cleaner and Landscapes Greener

WHAT: This panel will explore coffee’s potential as an environmental “hero crop” that delivers a broad range of ecosystem services while identifying specific farming and milling practices that will, as the title suggests, contribute to greener landscapes and cleaner water in the coffeelands.

WHY: Coffee needs water to thrive and millions of people around the world living downstream from the coffeelands depend on water sources located in coffee landscapes.  As the planet gets hotter and drier, the water services coffee delivers will only get more important..

WHO: The session is extraordinary for both the expertise and diversity of perspectives its panelists bring.  They include the great Tracy Ging, now Sales and Marketing Director at Volcafé Specialty (in addition to her roles as Vice Chair of World Coffee Research and Vice President of the SCAA), Hermán Rosa Chávez, former Minister of the Environment for El Salvador, who recognizes coffee’s promise for degraded landscapes like those in his native country, Michelle Deugd, Director of the Agriculture, Design and Innovation Group at Rainforest Alliance, and Leonardo Sánchez, an agricultural engineer who started the consulting firm ACERES and who knows more than anyone I have ever met about water-efficient mill designs and wastewater treatment.  The moderating duties are in the able hands of SCAA Director of Sustainability Kim Elena Ionescu, who curated the 2015 SCAA Symposium sessions on water.


HOW TO PREPARE: Watch “We all drink downstream,” a presentation by CRS Water Advisor Paul Hicks to the 2015 SCAA Symposium, and read CRS Coffeelands blog coverage of water resources in the coffeelands.


The Coffee Variety Conundrum: Resistance v Flavor?

WHAT: This star-studded panel explores the relationship between resistance and flavor in coffee breeding programs and addresses urgent questions that will be familiar to readers who followed our work on the Colombia Sensory Trial: Is there a trade-off between disease resistance and flavor?  If so, what are the “yield dividends” of resistant varieties?  What are the “quality dividends” of traditional varieties?  What are the likely economic implications of each?  What are the patterns of varietal preference among smallholders?  What are the implications of those preferences for industry?  What can be done to align incentives for specific varieties along the supply chain?

WHY: Because, as Tim Schilling of World Coffee Research said in connection with our Colombia Sensory Trial, “Farmers need to know which varieties will give them the best bang for their buck.”  Not only that, the industry needs to understand how smallholder economics and the possibility frontiers of breeding combine to affect the future of flavor in the coffee sector.  And policymakers need to understand which varieties they should be promoting and why.

WHO: Panelists come from the intersection of science and industry and include some of the brightest lights in specialty coffee: WCR CEO Timothy Schilling, Counter Culture Coffee Quality Director and Head Buyer Timothy Hill and Edgardo Alpizar, ECOM’s Director of Sustainable Management Services for Central America and Mexico.  My colleague, fellow Coffeelands author and CRS advisor on coffee and cacao in the Americas Kraig Kraft moderates this sterling panel.

WHERE: B407, Spanish translation available

HOW TO PREPARE: Watch “A simple question,” my presentation to the 2015 SCAA Symposium, read “The path of most resistance,” the outstanding issue brief from INTL FC Stone, and read this article in Daily Coffee News by panel moderator Kraig Kraft.  If you want still more, watch and read more of the CRS Coffeelands blog coverage of the Colombia Sensory Trial.


Food Security and the Future of Coffee

WHAT: Specialty coffee has done an extraordinary job of creating opportunities for smallholder farmers to increase their incomes through access to premium markets.  But most coffee growers are smallholders with little land available and much of it devoted to coffee.  Between the income they generate from coffee and the food they produce on their farms, many are not able to maintain a standard diet throughout the year.  This panel explores strategies that can help growers erase their food deficits without abandoning coffee.

WHY: Because if we fail to help the coffee growers most vulnerable to food insecurity to identify and implement those strategies, they may have no choice to abandon coffee.  That has clear implications for industry, of course, but the supply crunch in the marketplace may be the least of our worries—alternatives to coffee in many countries involve environmental degradation, migration, illicit livelihoods activities and rising insecurity.

WHO: Panelists include Rosemary Trent, a Director at Save the Children who earned an SCAA Sustainability Award for her previous work leading Pueblo a Pueblo; Liam Brody, currently a Senior VP at Root Capital who worked for many years at Oxfam; Dennis Macray, COO at Theo Chocolate and former sustainability director at Starbucks; and the great Fatima Ismael of the iconic SOPPEXCCA cooperative in Nicaragua.  Marcela Pino of Food 4 Farmers moderates, naturally.

WHERE: B408, Spanish translation available

HOW TO PREPARE: Watch After the Harvest, an award-winning documentary short on seasonal hunger in the Coffeelands that premiered at the 2011 SCAA Symposium in Houston and read the research on which the documentary was based.  For more, read CRS Coffeelands blog coverage of the issue of hunger in the coffeelands.


How Millennials Think About Sustainability

WHAT: S&D Coffee has funded some amazing consumer research over the years.  If this lecture is backed by a similar investment, it is likely to be lousy with insight.

WHY: This lecture is listed under the “Coffee Business” track, but the way this powerful customer segment defines sustainability and what it demands in terms of supply chain transparency and evidence of positive social impact will go a long way to defining what corporate investments at origin will look like in the decades to come.

WHO: John Buckner, Vice President at S&D Coffee and Tea, flies solo.


HOW TO PREPARE: Watch “A new generation of coffee drinkers” Tracy Ging’s presentation to the 2014 SCAA Symposium in Seattle.


Session 2: 10:30-11:45


Coffee Price Risk Management

WHAT: A review of coffee market fundamentals and an exploration of the most effective tools for managing risk in a volatile marketplace led by the organization that sets the standard in the field.  Features a “generous” question and answer period for coffee professionals, like me, who find these issues complicated.}

WHY: Because volatile markets can undo decades of investment to help smallholder coffee organizations become profitable and competitive businesses if those enterprises don’t effectively manage their price risk.

WHO: Julio Sera of INTL FC Stone holds sway.


HOW TO PREPARE: Read this summary of Kraig Kraft’s five-part series on price risk management for the Coffeelands blog, this article in The Specialty Coffee Chronicle by the great Ben Corey-Moran of Fair Trade USA, and this post to the Sustainable Harvest blog by the company’s “CCO”—Chief Coffee Officer—Jorge Cuevas.  If that isn’t enough, there is always this online agriculture risk management course offered by the World Bank.


Who Wants to Pick Coffee? 

WHAT: Sadly for all of us whose livelihoods depend on coffee, the answer to that question in recent years has increasingly been: “Not me.”  Labor scarcity, which has become a perennial problem in a growing number of coffee countries, will be one of the issues addressed in this panel, along with innovative efforts at the farm and industry levels to create incentives for labor stability and farmworker training.

WHY: Because the coffee industry depends on tens of millions of farmworkers around the world for the care, feeding and harvesting of our coffee, but we still don’t have a solid grasp on labor market dynamics or farmworker needs. Because farmworkers comprise the largest and most vulnerable group of participants in specialty coffee supply chains but they haven’t participated in specialty coffee’s promise in the way that other supply chain actors have.  Because there are latent threats (brand risk, supply risk) and opportunities (stabilization of labor supply, increased social impact) related to farm labor in the coffee sector.

WHO: Panelists include Juan Luis Barrios, SCAA Board member and owner of Finca La Merced in Guatemala, where he has learned a thing or two about farm labor issues; Hernando Duque, Technical Director of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia; Stacy Bocskor, a buyer for Allegro Coffee Company who has been deeply involved in the company’s profit-sharing and farmworker empowerment initiative at the La Revancha estate in Nicaragua; and a Mario Antonio González Hernández, a farmworker leader from La Revancha who has been participating in the process.  Miguel Zamora is the perfect choice to moderate the session—the UTZ Business Development Director for the Americas is currently serving as SCAA Sustainability Council Chair and has done as much as anyone in specialty coffee to raise the visibility of farmworkers.

WHERE: B403, Spanish translation available

HOW TO PREPARE: Read the article “Farmworkers in the Coffeelands,” published in the January/February 2016 issue of Roast Magazine, this eight-part series on isolated cases of modern slavery in the coffee sector in Brazil, and CRS Coffeelands blog coverage of farmworkers.




Session 3: 09:00-10:15


Exploring the Cost of Sustainable Production – Part 1

WHAT: Arguably the most important lecture at The SCAA Event, that’s what.  The SCAA took the extraordinary step of devoting not one but TWO lectures to this topic, it’s that important.  During the first part of this two-part series, panelists including explore the concept of “cost of sustainable production” from different perspectives on the supply chain and discuss what it means in real terms for growers, traders and roasters.

WHY:  Because when you look closely at the underlying economics of smallholder coffee farming, you see something like a perfect storm: prices that are extremely volatile (and often below costs of production), a changing climate, increasing incidence of disease, rising input costs at origin and rising standards for quality, traceability and compliance in the marketplace.  Sound next to impossible under these circumstances for smallholders to make or sustain profits and make the kinds of investments for continuous improvement that specialty markets require?  That’s because it often is.

WHO: Chad Trewick, former green buyer for Caribou Coffee and current SCAA Board member consulting under the Reciprocafé brand, has been a tireless and passionate advocate for this line of inquiry in his volunteer gig with the SCAA Sustainability Council.  It is hard to imagine anyone better-positioned to moderate this discussion, which will be joined by Tracy Ging of Volcafé Specialty, Juan Luis Barrios of the SCAA Board and Finca La Merced, Pascale Schuit, who splits her time between World Coffee Research and Union Hand-Roasted in London, and Stephen Vick, an independent consultant who has bought coffee for some of the most influential coffee roasters in specialty.

WHERE: B406, Spanish translation available

HOW: Attend this session as a stand-alone.  Or, for best results, attend both sessions of this two-part lecture.

HOW TO PREPARE: Read this article on cost of production by Chad Trewick, this article on “meaningful economic benefit” by Tracy Ging, both published in The Specialty Coffee Chronicle, and this article in Daily Coffee News whose careful analysis of production costs, profit margins and policy implications was informed by data from our Borderlands project in Colombia.


A Blueprint for Gender Equality in the Coffeelands

WHAT:  A panel discussion exploring persistent gender inequality in the coffee sector and what can be done to address it.

WHY:  Because women may hold up half the sky (and in many places they may do more than half the work on coffee farms), but they rarely not participate as equals in decision-making about how the farm is run or how the proceeds from coffee sales are spent.  And because there is enormous opportunity in greater inclusion of women—as participants in projects, leaders of farmer enterprises and in in every other role in the coffee supply chain.

WHO: Women, of course.  Women who are doing extraordinary things to advance the sustainability of the industry in general and the cause of women’s empowerment and gender equality more specifically.  Sam Veide, Global Director of Corporate Sustainable Solutions at Mars Drinks, moderates a panel that includes Kimberly Easson, a VP at the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) who launched its Partnership for Gender Equity (and was also a co-founder of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance), Asya Troychansky, who oversees the Women in Agriculture Initiative at Root Capital, Teddy Ithungu of Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union in Uganda, which won the 2015 SCAA Sustainability Award for its innovative GALS methodology for women’s inclusion and emppowerment, and Pascasie Nyirandege of Twin Trading who has worked closely with Teddy and Bukonzo joint to develop and expand GALS, and Fátima Ismael of SOPPEXCCA.

WHERE: B407, Spanish translation available

HOW TO PREPARE: Read the publication that bears the same title as this lecture, the SCAA’s Blueprint for Gender Equality in the Coffeelands.  And this exceptional issue brief on women as “hidden influencers in the rural economy” published by Root Capital.


Climate Smart Agriculture and the Future of Coffee

WHAT:  The grave threat that climate change poses to the future of agriculture generally—and specialty coffee in particular—is by now well-established.  This panel will review the science and explore some of the leading approaches to adapation, with a particular focus on those that have the potential to be scaled.

WHY: Because the future viability of coffee production depends on it.

WHO: Colleen Popkin, Senior Manager in Sustainability at Keurig Green Mountain, Benjamin Schmerler, a Director at Root Capital, Martin Noponen, Senior Manager of the Landscapes and Livelihoods program at Rainforest Alliance, and Christian Bunn, Ph.D. and researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), provide perspectives from diverse sectors, including industry, finance, international development and research.  The conversation is moderated by Mark Lundy, a senior researcher at CIAT specializing in market access, a devoted home roaster and a longtime CRS collaborator in the coffeelands.

WHERE: B408, Spanish translation available


FSMA Compliance

WHAT:  This panel promises practical guidance for companies seeking clarity about how to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.  FSMA, or “FIZZ-ma,” is the first major overhaul of U.S. food safety laws in the better part of a century.

WHY:  Is FSMA focused primarily on phytosantitary regulations and efforts to combat bioterrorism in the nation’s food supply?  Yes.  Does green coffee, which is roasted at over 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes pose a particular food safety risk?  No.  But do the measures it calls for regarding product traceability have huge potential implications for supply chain transparency?  Absolutely.

WHO: Mike Ebert, past SCAA President whose latest endeavor is Firedancer Coffee Consultants.


HOW TO PREPARE: Read up on FSMA on the Food and Drug Administration website here.  If you are a National Coffee Association member, you can access its FSMA comment letters (there have been many) and watch a webinar on FSMA’s implications for the coffee sector.  Those letters used to be publicly available, but no longer.


Session 4: 10:30-11:45


Exploring the Cost of Sustainable Production – Part 2

WHAT: Economists, big data devotees and number lovers take heed: the second half of the two-part series exploring the concept of “cost of sustainable production” surveys research into costs of production, including an exploration of the methodologies, indicators and early findings of several ongoing collaborations, as well as efforts to prototype a cost-of-production calculator than may help shift the point of departure in the price discovery process from futures-market prices to cost-of-production.

WHY: Because sustained profits are a precondition for sustainability and because the data show that plenty of coffee growers aren’t meeting that basic requirement.

WHO: Chad Trewick passes the moderator’s baton to David Piza, a colleague on the SCAA Sustainability Council’s Cost of Production Committee and Sustainable Sourcing Manager at S&D Coffee and Tea.  Pascale Schuit stays on for the second session of this two-part lecture, and is joined by Juan Nicolás Hernández-Aguilera, a doctoral candidate in applied economics at Cornell University.

WHERE: B406, Spanish translation available

HOW: Attend this session as a stand-alone.  Or, for best results, attend both sessions of this two-part lecture.


Resilience in Communities Dependent on Coffee

WHAT: An idea that is transcendent in the international development field right now, resilience refers to the strategies and tactics vulnerable families employ to cope with shocks (whether production shocks in the field, price shocks in the marketplace, conflict, natural disaster, severe weather events, etc.) and adapt to longer-term changes affecting their livelihoods.  Panelists explore the conceptual framework for programming designed to strengthen resilience, identify limitations and opportunities for those efforts and discuss lessons learned from ongoing resilience initiatives with coffee growers in Africa and the Americas.

WHY:  Because for many vulnerable smallholder growers, it feels like the walls are caving in—shocks are more frequent and more severe and margins are tighter than ever, leaving precious little margin for error.  The more resilient growers become, the better their quality of life and the stronger our supply chains.

WHO: Rick Peyser, a past SCAA president and senior statesman of sustainability in coffee who spent more than a quarter-century at Keurig Green Mountain leading the charge on Fair Trade and hunger alleviation, is in a new role as Senior Relationship Manager for Coffee and Cocoa at Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and moderates this discussion.  Panelists include Rick’s LWR colleague Jennifer Wiegel, who leads the organization’s programming in Central America and Haiti, CIAT Senior Researcher Mark Lundy, and University of Vermont professor of agroecology Ernesto Méndez.

WHERE: B408, Spanish translation available


Financing Renovation: A Collaborative Approach to Farmer Resilience

WHAT: This panel is focused on the Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative (there’s that R-word again), an extraordinary example of cross-sector collaboration in which industry leaders, financial institutions and public donors have joined forces to help coffee growers in Central America “build back better” after the massive crop losses to coffee leaf rust beginning in the 2012/13 crop year.  The effort doesn’t just mobilize capital to finance renovation, but embeds that lending in a comprehensive decision-support framework that ties renovation to advisory services related to commercial viability, climate-smart agricultural practices, food security and gender equity.

WHY: Partly because the design and implementation of this comprehensive package of services is worthy of closer consideration, and partly because we need to learn from successful examples of cross-sector engagement like this one, since so many of the perennial challenges around sustainability require just this type of approach.

WHO: Three people who played catalytic roles in creating the Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative and mobilizing capital for its renovation loan fund: Pablo Ramírez, Sustainable Sourcing Manager at Starbucks, Mark Sieffert, who builds public-private partnerships as part of USAID’s Food Security Bureau, and Root Capital VP Liam Brody (moderator).

WHERE: B407, Spanish translation available




Session 5: 10:30-11:45


What is sustainable coffee, anyway?

WHAT: This lecture will wrestle with the question posed in its title: How do we define sustainable coffee?

WHY:  Because the answer to that question matters.  Our ability to set targets, identify indicators and measure our collective progress toward sustainability depends on broad alignment around a shared definition of sustainability.  Perhaps more importantly, so does our ability to invest our scarce resources in ways that are likely to generate the greatest returns to true sustainability.

WHO: SCAA Director of Sustainability Kim Elena Ionescu moderates the conversation, which includes two influential advisors—Bambi Semroc, a senior environmental advisor at Conservation International who is coordinating the Sustainable Coffee Challenge and has worked extensively with leading coffee brands, and Jason Potts, who leads the Sustainable Markets and Responsible Trade unit at the International Institute for Sustainable Development and is a trusted advisor on sustainability issues to leading corporations—and a one-man coffee supply chain:  Felipe Croce is a Brazilian coffee entrepreneur who grows coffee, roasts it, exports it and serves in the café he owns in São Paulo.


HOW TO PREPARE: Read this reflection on what sustainability really means and this summary of a memorable conversation with five women leading the charge on sustainability in coffee, both published last year in Daily Coffee News.


Coffee Farming Essentials

WHAT: A lecture on the “botanical basics” of coffee production for growers and non-growers alike.

WHY: Because most of the people in Atlanta live and work everyday very far from the coffeelands, and because even those who don’t can always learn something new.

WHO: The good doctor of coffee Shawn Steiman, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer of the Daylight Mind Coffee Company, presides.

WHERE: B407, Spanish translation available


Coffee Price Risk Management (en español)

QUÉ: A Spanish-language version of the Friday-afternoon session on the same topic.

POR QUÉ:  Because monolingual attendees from Latin America need this information, too.

QUIÉN: Julio Sera of INTL FC Stone holds sway.



Download a PDF version of this post here, and a schedule of Coffeelands picks here.

Michael Sheridan