Seeding Coffee’s Future: A Conversation About Conservation and Verification

By Hanna Neuschwander, World Coffee Research

 [Ed. note: To learn more about this groundbreaking research, join Garold LaRue II (NSF International) Brian Lainoff (Global Crop Diversity Trust) and Tracy Ging (S&D Coffee & Tea, World Coffee Research) for the breakout session “Seeding the Future,” at the NCA Annual Convention 2017, March 23-25, Austin, TX]

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An unidentified Coffea species found in Madagascar, which is preserved in a coffee genebank. Ensuring these genebanks have adequate funding to continue operations should be a major priority of the coffee industry. Source: Sarada Krishnan

Sometimes facts are so obvious they become invisible.

In the case of coffee, one of those facts is this: Coffee comes from a plant. The entire $225 billion dollar coffee industry in the U.S. is built up from the roots of billions of living, breathing coffee plants that spend their days turning sunlight into fruit. Once you stop and think about it, it’s kind of profound. Nearly 1.7 million jobs — including, if you are reading this, probably yours — depend on those plants doing their thing, photosynthesizing, outsmarting diseases and pests, being rained on at the right time in the right amounts.

It’s also profound to think about just how fragile the entire arrangement is. The vast majority of coffee plants in the field today are really, really (really) genetically similar. Most varieties are not resistant to major diseases. Most are way too old (World Coffee Research guesses that about 50% of coffee trees are more than 50 years old). That leaves coffee especially vulnerable — to disease epidemics like the one that devastated Central American production after 2012, to extremes in weather like excessive rain or drought or frost.

When crops are facing challenges like these, it helps to go back to basics: Coffee is a plant. So — what is needed to help the plant thrive? And, thereby, to help the humans who depend on it?

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Innovation, Sustainability, and the Global Coffee Industry

By Bambi Semroc, Conservation International

[Ed. note: To learn more about this project, join Bambi Semroc and Annette Pensel, Global Coffee Platform, for the breakout session “Making Coffee the First Sustainable Commodity,” at the NCA Annual Convention 2017, March 23-25, Austin, TX]

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Source: Conservation International, Cristina Mittermeier ©

Innovation is all around us.

From a 3D printer that enables doctors to construct human tissue, to a virtual reality headset that transports a policymaker in Washington, DC to a remote village in the Amazon to experience projects helping prevent deforestation. Things we never dreamed of 20 years ago are changing our daily lives. And, innovation is not just defined as “the next hot thing” – it’s critical to ensuring the sustainable growth of an industry.

The coffee sector is continually innovating. Consider the new roasting and brewing techniques that led to cold brew and single serve coffees. Or, consumer engagement through creative retail shops offering everything from hands-on technology to fully compostable cups.

That said, innovation in coffee also includes things the everyday drinker might not know about – from researchers developing new varieties and improved practices, to small-scale farmers adopting those varieties and experimenting with new techniques on their farms.

One of the most important innovations the coffee sector has been leading includes the work being done on sustainability.

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Bees Partner with Coffee Farmers to Save the Farm

By Janice Nadworny, co-director of Food 4 Farmers

Ed. Note: Like so many farmers and workers around the world, coffee producers can face challenges that threaten their livelihoods – from natural disasters like la roya to inadequate local resources. Here, Food 4 Farmers shares one possible solution for these communities. Not only does beekeeping facilitate viable income diversification, but it also helps to sustain the environment for future harvests.

The following is an excerpt of a post originally published on Fairtrade America.

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A survey of households in Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala found that, on average, 63% of coffee households suffered food insecurity during the year. This seasonal food insecurity has a name: Los Meses Flacos, or the thin months of hunger. Families survive by eating less, eating cheap processed food, or going into debt to buy food. (SCAA, from the Blueprint to End Hunger)

Many families resort to off-farm work, neglecting the needs of their farms, with negative consequences for the following year’s harvest. My NGO, Food 4 Farmers, is working to make sure coffee farmers have the option to stay and thrive. Continue reading

The Secret Life of Bees

By Nikki Seibert Kelley for the Bee Cause Project

“In the end, we only conserve what we love, we only love what we understand, and we understand only what we are taught.”

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Under the dabbled light of a subtropical forest, the sweet smell from coffee flowers entices one of java’s smallest customers: the honeybee.

Honeybees are attracted to coffee flowers for their sugary, high-quality nectar. According to recent studies, visits from pollinators have been shown to increase coffee yields by as much as 50%.

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FNC’s 100/100 Initiative for Colombian Coffee

By Roberto Vélez, Chief Executive Officer, Colombian Coffee Growers Federation

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A cup of Colombian coffee is served at a coffee farm in Cauca, southwest Colombia. Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

“A cup of coffee is not just a commodity, it is a life.”

Colombian coffee has always pushed the boundaries of what is accepted as the status quo.

The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) was created in 1927. Eleven years later, Cenicafé, Colombia’s Coffee Research Center was founded. Juan Valdez, the character and most important coffee icon in history was in advertisings all over the United States and many countries around the world since 1961. In 1981, the 100% Colombian Coffee program was launched.

What has been coffee’s most successful advertising campaign? Juan Valdez. It was about the character. His integrity, hard work and good practices produced high quality coffee.

First there was the coffee grower, and then there was a great cup of coffee.

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Behind the Beans: Creating World’s First Sustainable Agricultural Product

By Bambi Semroc, Conservation International

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Picking coffee berries. © Ingmar Zahorsky/Flickr Creative Commons

It takes about 70 coffee beans to make the perfect cup of coffee.

It takes about 3-4 years to grow the perfect coffee bean.

Behind those beans that fuel your morning are the lives of millions of farmers around the world whose livelihoods depend on growing, caring for, and selling coffee. Behind those beans is a cumulative land area the size of Cuba dedicated to the cultivation of coffee. And behind those beans are the threats of climate change affecting growing conditions, market volatility significantly lowering prices, aging coffee trees declining in productivity, and a generation of farmers seeking economic alternatives for their livelihoods.

These are complex issues that require a wide range of solutions and commitments.

Enter, the Sustainable Coffee Challenge.

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Coffee’s Big Sustainability Challenges

By Miguel Zamora, Head of Americas Region, UTZ

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Coffee farmers in Uganda at farmer field school. Photo: UTZ

The sustainability issues that the coffee industry face will get bigger and more pressing in the coming decades. Climate change, labor shortages, human rights issues in coffee production, and production profitability are examples of threats to the future of coffee.

These are complex questions that require sector-wide approaches to find solutions.

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Being Clear on Transparency

By Angela Magnusson, Commercial Relations Manager, Fairtrade America

“At its core, transparency is the free and open access to knowledge, which implies that information flows all ways.”

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A Fairtrade-certified coffee producer based in Barillas, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Credit: Sean Hawkey, Fairtrade International

In today’s digital age, instantaneous and open sharing of information no longer dazzles us. Transparency, from the perspective of the US consumer, has increasingly become an expectation and not just a ‘nice-to-have.’

According to “Transparency 2015, Establishing Trust with Consumers,” a recent study from the Hartman Group, while general familiarity with the term “sustainability” continues to grow and shape purchases in the U.S., transparency is emerging as a new buying ideal. This trend represents more than the simple economic exchange people have with companies, but a fundamental shift in the relationship we have with the world and others around us.

More companies are sharing the stories of their products and becoming more adept at communicating just what it is this new generation of customers want to know. But to what end does transparency serve farmers and their families? How can transparency in the other direction – with farmers and cooperatives – provide the groundwork for long-term trust and sustainability in the coffee industry?

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