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.
Sustainable Harvest yesterday announced it is convening Food Security Solutions from 9-12 June in Nicaragua. The event is a four-day farmer-focused training forum designed to provide actionable information to coffee farming families fighting hunger. To its credit, Sustainable Harvest has chosen not to run from an unfamiliar issue, but rather to engage it decisively.
In a recent episode of Mad Money, hyper-caffeinated host Jim Cramer said GMCR stock, which has already risen over the past year from around $30 a share to nearly $100, is positioned to go even higher. “It is a fabulous business model,” Cramer said. I agree. But chances are we are not using the same measuring stick.
I have been closely watching the way coffee companies engage in the coffeelands over the past five years or so. Most fit neatly under one of the “3Ps” of coffee philanthropy: public relations, process and product improvements, and people-centered investment. (OK, really there are 4Ps.)