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Tag Archive for: Catholic Relief Services

by Alexandra Katona-Carroll,
Coffee Quality Institute

What about the other 50 million? Achieving sustainability through Robusta

Categories: 2011, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The mis­sion of the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) is to improve the qual­ity of cof­fee and the lives of peo­ple who pro­duce it. You may notice that no lim­its are spec­i­fied in our mis­sion. While we often think of spe­cialty cof­fees, and almost always think of Arabica cof­fees in this con­text, here at CQI we are inter­ested in help­ing all cof­fee farm­ers suc­ceed. We have been able to build a suc­cess­ful pro­gram around Arabica cof­fee that has trans­formed the way actors in the sup­ply chain talk about qual­ity. To date, we have cer­ti­fied over 1,300 “Q” Graders who are dis­cussing qual­ity cof­fee in a more sys­tem­atic and sci­en­tific man­ner. The pro­gram has been used for var­i­ous pur­poses, but most impor­tantly, it has allowed more peo­ple at ori­gin to dis­cover, sep­a­rate and sell higher qual­ity cof­fee, and pro­vide insight into those lots that have the poten­tial for higher pre­mi­ums. With 50 mil­lion bags of Robusta pro­duced in 2010, and with mil­lions of farm­ers depen­dant on its suc­cess, we think it’s well worth a try.

When we started announc­ing the devel­op­ment of a new pro­gram for Robusta cof­fee, “R” Coffee, there was a lot of dis­be­lief, and even some anger. How could the Coffee Quality Institute be focused on a species of cof­fee that is asso­ci­ated with lower qual­ity and higher envi­ron­men­tal impact? How could we pos­si­bly turn to Robusta know­ing very well that there is not a space for it in the spe­cialty world? The answer is sim­ple – with the cur­rent shape of the mar­ket, and with numer­ous fac­tors affect­ing sup­ply, it is very likely that higher qual­ity Robusta could relieve some sup­ply short­ages for the spe­cialty mar­ket. Even though there are some notable fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tics that dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from Arabica (some might say very notable), Fine Robusta cof­fee may even find a cozy home with con­sumers who appre­ci­ate lower acid­ity, or with roast­ers look­ing for a dif­fer­ent qual­ity cof­fee to com­ple­ment a blend.

In order to make Robusta palat­able for the spe­cialty drinker, a whole lot needs to be improved first. CQI has started to develop Fine Robusta stan­dards, much like those of Arabica, which will help build qual­ity aware­ness among Robusta pro­duc­ers and lead to a more sus­tain­able sup­ply of high qual­ity Robustas. The Robusta Program, now inte­grated with our Q Coffee System, has made some sig­nif­i­cant process in just over a year and a half. We have over 15 cer­ti­fied “R” Graders and will con­tinue to host Fine Robusta work­shops in Uganda, Brazil and Indonesia, with the hopes of expand­ing to Vietnam and India in the near future. Ted Lingle, exec­u­tive direc­tor of CQI, expands, “The suc­cess of the Fine Robusta Coffee Workshops can­not be over­stated. It clearly iden­ti­fied the poten­tial for huge growth in the mar­ket place for this cat­e­gory of cof­fee; growth based on qual­ity not price. The suc­cess also clearly iden­ti­fied the road­block to improved Robusta prices: DEFECTS. All of the cof­fees cupped dur­ing the Workshops had been cleaned and graded so that the defect counts were com­pa­ra­ble to those for spe­cialty Arabica grades, and con­se­quently the fla­vor improve­ments in the Robusta cof­fees were strik­ing. As a by-product of these work­shops, the cof­fee indus­try now has a set of train­ing mate­ri­als to use in a sys­tem­atic approach for qual­ity improve­ment in the Robusta cof­fee sup­ply chain.”

Tackling the qual­ity issues inher­ent in the har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing of Robusta cof­fees is the very first step and then it is nec­es­sary for Fine Robusta stan­dards to become inte­grated into the sup­ply chain, just like SCAA’s Arabica stan­dards. Investments, part­ner­ships, and long-term strate­gies will be vital to cul­ti­vat­ing a steady sup­ply of Fine Robustas, and sev­eral orga­ni­za­tions have also started to focus on Robusta, includ­ing Catholic Relief Services, Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). While the Fine Robusta stan­dards con­tinue to be adjusted and refined, and as we move for­ward with the intro­duc­tion of this pro­gram into Robusta-growing regions, we under­stand the chal­lenge and effort needed to make this suc­cess­ful for every­one. Once the indus­try is ready to embrace this lesser loved bean, Robusta will be there wait­ing with open arms.

Alexandra Katona-Carroll is the pro­grams man­ager for the Coffee Quality Institute. She is respon­si­ble for the devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion of CQI’s new data­base, along with mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. She’s cur­rently a mem­ber of SCAA’s Sustainability Council and is flu­ent in Spanish.

Sustainability: Specialty Coffee and the Exodus

Categories: 2011, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

In July of 2007 the United Nations Population Fund reported that for the first time in his­tory, more than half of humankind was liv­ing in towns and cities, no longer in rural areas. This gave cre­dence to the Fund’s 1996 pre­dic­tion that “the growth of cities will be the sin­gle largest influ­ence on devel­op­ment in the 21st cen­tury.” By 2030 the world’s urban pop­u­la­tion is expected to grow to 4.9 bil­lion, while the rural areas will actu­ally see a decrease of about 28 mil­lion dur­ing this same period.

What is caus­ing this rapid growth of urban areas? In two words, it is the “per­ceived oppor­tu­nity” for a bet­ter life. Economic, edu­ca­tional, social, and health advances and oppor­tu­ni­ties are cen­tered in urban areas. This is a pow­er­ful draw to mar­gin­al­ized rural pop­u­la­tions around the world, and it has cre­ated a grow­ing tide of migrants mov­ing away from rural lands. Coffee com­mu­ni­ties are hardly immune to this pow­er­ful trend.

The long term sus­tain­abil­ity of our indus­try faces many threats, includ­ing cli­mate change, increas­ing global demand, decreas­ing pro­duc­tion and result­ing labor short­ages, and the count­less chal­lenges of poverty and hunger. Yet, the most omi­nous threat to our own sus­tain­abil­ity may be our inabil­ity to see and act upon what is right in front of us..

As an indus­try, we remain focused on high qual­ity cof­fee from tree to cup. Our focus on qual­ity con­tin­ues to result in a dis­tinc­tive, supe­rior taste in the cup. Yet as we look ahead, is this tra­di­tional focus enough to sus­tain our industry?

If your cof­fee trav­els are like mine, you spend many months a year meet­ing with small-scale farm­ers and their fam­i­lies in very rural, iso­lated parts of our planet. Yet even in these areas it is hard to miss young peo­ple using cell phones to con­nect with friends in nearby vil­lages or dis­tant cities. It is also hard to miss the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Internet cafes that have sprung up not far from the shade of the cof­fee parcels. Some of these cafes may be a bus ride away, yet young peo­ple are drawn to them like bees to honey. Why? These cafes pro­vide a link to a mod­ern, urban world with a per­ceived access to sec­ondary school edu­ca­tion, ade­quate health ser­vices, clean water, ade­quate shel­ter, and nutri­tious food. The lack of access to these basics gives young peo­ple lit­tle rea­son to stay in cof­fee com­mu­ni­ties grow­ing cof­fee. The vir­tual genie has left the bot­tle, and the exo­dus from cof­fee com­mu­ni­ties to urban cen­ters and beyond, that jumped into high gear a decade ago when cof­fee prices tum­bled to his­toric lows, has taken a dif­fer­ent turn and will con­tinue to accel­er­ate and threaten the long-term sus­tain­abil­ity of our industry.

While we have to pro­tect spe­cialty cof­fee against poten­tial threats, includ­ing the impacts of cli­mate change, and encour­age the devel­op­ment of new high qual­ity “climate-tolerant” vari­eties, we can­not ignore the mega­trend in which we find our­selves: accel­er­at­ing global urban­iza­tion. As an indus­try, if we suc­ceed in devel­op­ing new hybrids that will main­tain the quan­tity and qual­ity of spe­cialty cof­fee demanded by the mar­ket, yet fail to help cof­fee grow­ing fam­i­lies address their basic needs and give young peo­ple suf­fi­cient rea­son to stay in their coffee-growing com­mu­ni­ties, we may find our­selves ask­ing each other, “Who is left to grow and har­vest this new gen­er­a­tion of spe­cialty coffee?”

Globally, most of the major chal­lenges to qual­ity of life in cof­fee com­mu­ni­ties are sim­ply too large for any indi­vid­ual com­pany to resolve alone. Further, most com­pa­nies do not have the exper­tise inter­nally, or the “boots on the ground” to help fos­ter changes at the com­mu­nity level. Challenges like food inse­cu­rity, global warm­ing, clean water, and access to edu­ca­tion demand and deserve a coör­di­nated, thought­ful response that makes the most effec­tive and effi­cient use of the lim­ited resources we have avail­able as an indus­try. The first step can be to iden­tify where our cof­fees orig­i­nate as close to the com­mu­nity level as pos­si­ble, fol­lowed by iden­ti­fy­ing NGO’s who are work­ing in these com­mu­ni­ties. NGO’s like Save the Children, Heifer International, Catholic Relief Services, Coffee Kids and Mercy Corps are exam­ples of orga­ni­za­tions work­ing in cof­fee grow­ing areas around the world. Some in our indus­try are just start­ing to talk about col­lab­o­rat­ing to address these issues. Industry col­lab­o­ra­tion is the key to the long-term suc­cess and sus­tain­abil­ity of our part­ners in cof­fee grow­ing com­mu­ni­ties around the world, and ulti­mately of our own businesses.


Rick Peyser is Director of Social Advocacy and Supply Chain Community Outreach for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters where he has worked for over 24 years. He is a past President of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the world’s largest cof­fee trade asso­ci­a­tion, and served six years on the Board of Directors of the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) which sets the stan­dards for Fair Trade that ben­e­fit over 1,500,000 small-scale farm­ers around the world. Currently Rick serves on the Coffee Kids Board of Directors, the Food For Farmers Board of Directors, and the Board of Directors of Fundacion Ixil which is work­ing to improve the qual­ity of life in Ixil cof­fee com­mu­ni­ties in El Quiche, Guatemala.