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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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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Q&A: How the coffee sector is mapping a path toward global sustainability

By Molly Bergen

Editor’s note: The 600 billion cups of coffee we consume every year globally start out as berries on trees in the tropics. In the coming years, those trees — and the farmers who harvest and export their beans — will be buffeted by an unpredictable mix of market forces and climate change, threatening the global stability and sustainability of coffee and of the forests and farms that make it possible.

ci_scc_horizontal_final_450pxIn response, the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a new initiative launched in part by Conservation International (CI), aims to make coffee the world’s first completely sustainable agricultural commodity. The initiative, still in its formative stages, will begin to take shape at the upcoming World Coffee Conference in Ethiopia.

With major organizations adding momentum to the effort, the next step is providing direction, as Bambi Semroc, a CI senior strategic adviser, explains in the following interview. With forecasts of growing demand and a changing climate, she says, the time to protect this crucial crop is now.

Question: What is significant about how coffee is grown?

Answer: Over centuries, coffee has become a staple in nearly every corner of the world. People drink about 600 billion cups of coffee every year. It’s also a $22 billion global industry that provides essential income for millions of people across the sector, including over 25 million smallholder farmers who also serve as important stewards for the world’s tropical forests.  Continue reading