As in many sectors, the coffee sector is in a state of flux due to the COVID pandemic. While most of us in coffee consuming countries had a chance to work from home, the reality for coffee communities was far different. Farmers and hired labor are the frontline in supply chains and associated coffee landscapes, yet rarely recognized due to their lack of visibility. Imagine risk management from their point of view: economic uncertainty, natural disasters, climate change and now COVID added to the list. Besides the direct health risks, the pandemic impacts market demand, logistics and availability of labor as part of the ripple effect. Against this backdrop, we shouldn’t be surprised if coffee farmers are less likely to comply with sustainability requirements to reduce costs of production in order to survive.
The complexity and magnitude of these diverse issues can be overwhelming, making it difficult for any organization to understand if they are part of the problem or part of the solution. In our view this requires a rethink of our sustainability approach versus scaling business as usual. Stepping back from your role and engaging with others outside of your organization is essential to learn and reflect on consequences of existing structures and power relations. To understand and effectively address interconnected sustainability issues requires mindful engagement of sector actors, value chain partners and consumers.
Tap into the existing wealth of R&D
Over the past year, we have been engaging with actors across the sector for the Coffee Barometer 2020. This included interviewing, collecting and analyzing data from roasters, retailers, traders, producer organizations, national programs, research and financial institutions, NGOs, donors and consumers. Additionally, the International Coffee Organization (ICO) just published its landmark report ‘The Value of Coffee: Sustainability, Inclusiveness, and Resilience of the Coffee Global Value Chain’. These reports collectively provide an overview of the state of sustainability in the global coffee sector and recommendations along the entire coffee value chain.
We now have measurement tools, transparency technology, online databases, training toolkits, assessment scorecards, satellite monitoring, and various forms of footprint calculators to help inform and shape decisions relating to the many challenges of supply chains. Connecting the dots to leverage this knowledge depends on learning from each other to co-navigate a continuous improvement trajectory. The Sustainable Coffee Challenge , the Global Coffee Platform and World Coffee Research provide webinars and online resources for anyone to learn about the numerous initiatives from across the sector. These platforms are a small sample of the vast R&D resources available for any person curious about coffee sustainability.
Unlock the value in your chain
COVID demonstrated the importance of relationships in order to maneuver supply chains in uncertain environments. We also saw the acute damage on coffee communities wreaked by Hurricane Eta and how some companies rose to the challenge to support their origin partners. In order to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, we need to build relationships through trade, training, data, and communication to accelerate a culture of trust and innovation within the supply chains we operate.
Farmers, mills, producer organizations, traders, roasters, retailers NGOs, financers and governments all look at sustainability differently. Harmonizing these perspectives towards a shared vision should be the goal in order to fully leverage your supply chain as a collective. Sustainable Harvest has been a pioneer in this strategy through their Relationship Coffee Model the SH 2020 Year in Review demonstrates this model in action. This can serve as an inspiration if you’re looking to unlock the hidden value in your supply chain.
The Taste of Sustainability
If you are drinking coffee at home, take a moment to learn about where it came from and who produced it. Notice how it changes your experience.
As a coffee community we need to do a better job to engage consumers in the sustainability journey and experience. Sustainability helps to align values throughout a supply chain and into a product allowing consumers to participate. Sustainable sourcing programs provide the opportunity to demonstrate how coffee consumption is an investment, a vote or an expression. As such we can use coffee as a tool to address many issues identified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12) is one of them, and sustainable coffee can help to educate a massive consumer base, one cup at a time… that’s five lessons a day for some of us!
Social media channels provide new opportunities to engage and learn from the consumer perspective. Eight years ago Rainforest Alliance released the “Follow the Frog” commercial on YouTube. With over 5.6 million views, this is great example of engagement, as it provides the opportunity to receive comments from consumers directly - giving insight into the spectrum of consumer reactions to sustainability marketing.
Let’s Get Engaged
At Ethos Agriculture we want to create a safe place for disruptive thinking in the coffee sector. In order to achieve this, we facilitate discussion and interaction between initiatives and organizations to generate innovative approaches to old problems. If you feel inspired to think (and drink) different, feel free to reach out and we are happy to engage!