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by Sandra Marquardt

Organic Certification — Not only Relevant Today, but Vital

Categories: 2012, MarchTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

There has been talk lately about whether organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is rel­e­vant to the spe­cialty cof­fee sec­tor, espe­cially along the lines of direct rela­tion­ships and directly pay­ing the farmer the equiv­a­lent of the organic pre­mium required from roast­ers, regard­less of the pro­duc­tion method. I asked sev­eral lumi­nar­ies in the cof­fee arena if they would like to com­ment on this posi­tion and the fol­low­ing are their thoughts.

Dr. Robert Rice, Geographer with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center of the National Zoo and Coördinator of its Bird Friendly® shade-grown cof­fee cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram: There cer­tainly is noth­ing wrong with direct rela­tion­ships between grower and roaster. There is a long his­tory of those arrange­ments that reaches back into the 1800s; it is not a new phe­nom­e­non. But to focus solely on the amount of money paid to grow­ers misses the point. Surely, there exists a group of organic pro­duc­ers who have got­ten cer­ti­fied organic strictly for the eco­nomic ben­e­fits that brings them. We have seen that grow­ers in coun­tries like Guatemala or Kenya or oth­ers can get upwards of a $0.30 to $0.40 pre­mium for the organic seal. Where vol­ume and mar­kets allow them to sell all of the cof­fee as organic and get the pre­mium because it is organic, the return has been hefty.

However, many grow­ers have gone the organic route from the stand­point of ide­ol­ogy or world­view. They see them­selves as pro­tec­tors of the land, and believe that good land stew­ard­ship is a respon­si­ble approach that they want cer­ti­fied. Given the mul­ti­tude of brochures/pamphlets/websites that pro­claim the behav­iors and ben­e­fits asso­ci­ated with cer­ti­fied organic pro­duc­tion, it is dif­fi­cult to chalk those up to mere greedy green­wash. My own inter­ac­tion with grow­ers over the years con­vinces me that many grow­ers with organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion are in it for all the right rea­sons, i.e., because it is a respon­si­ble way to farm and a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is the only inde­pen­dent, non-conflict of inter­est way of iden­ti­fy­ing one’s farm­ing tech­niques. I do not think any­one should need con­vinc­ing of the fal­lacy of self-reporting, self-monitoring, etc. that accom­pa­nies a lot of the direct rela­tion­ship arrangements.

Of course, a num­ber of roast­ers have devel­oped their own set of cri­te­ria and third-party eval­u­a­tion. But that rarely, at least in my readings/experience, involves the use of syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers and/or pes­ti­cides. And even if it does, I have never heard of a roaster refus­ing the cof­fee from one of his favorite sources because of non-met cri­te­ria in the eval­u­a­tion. But all of these argu­ments ignore the very basic issue of what cer­ti­fied organic means for the con­sumer and for the land upon which the cof­fee is being produced.

Coffee qual­ity in the spe­cialty mar­ket reigns above all else; that is a tru­ism. But I would argue that there are a host of cof­fee con­sumers who would rather drink a very good cer­ti­fied organic cof­fee than opt for an excel­lent “rela­tion­ship” cof­fee that is plied with high lev­els of petroleum-based fer­til­iz­ers and sprayed with toxic cock­tails of pes­ti­cides. Ask the grower who has ben­e­fited not only from the pre­mium but also from a soil (a fun­da­men­tal vari­able in pro­duc­ing cof­fee in terms of qual­ity and quan­tity) that only gets richer with time as the organic prac­tices are applied year after year.

Rick Peyser, Director of Social Advocacy and Supply Chain Community Outreach, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, a leader in spe­cialty cof­fee and cof­fee mak­ers: Organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of prod­ucts includ­ing spe­cialty cof­fee focuses on how prod­ucts were grown, i.e., on healthy soil, with­out syn­thetic chem­i­cals, etc. This cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is con­ducted by an inde­pen­dent third party. Any argu­ment that solely advances the eco­nomic ben­e­fit of this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to pro­duc­ers misses the mark. While eco­nom­ics are crit­i­cally impor­tant, so are the envi­ron­ment and water­shed where the farm­ers and their fam­i­lies live. The promise of higher yields via inten­sive and expen­sive inputs has con­tributed to defor­esta­tion and the gen­eral degra­da­tion of the envi­ron­ment that has had a neg­a­tive impact on soil fer­til­ity, water­ways, migra­tory birds and other wildlife, and on human health. The “pre­mium” paid for organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, while help­ful to the small-scale farm­ing fam­ily, is still by itself usu­ally not enough to lift this fam­ily out of poverty. Paying the farmer the “equiv­a­lent” of the organic pre­mium in lieu of organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion lim­its the farmer’s audi­ence of buy­ers, poten­tially lock­ing the farmer in to one buyer with its own pro­pri­etary cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that is not well rec­og­nized by most con­sumers. This “equiv­a­lent” pre­mium is still not suf­fi­cient for the farmer or the greater envi­ron­ment. More is needed.

Daniele Giovannucci, Executive Director, Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA), which offers a highly regarded global bench­mark used by lead­ing global com­pa­nies and inter­na­tional devel­op­ment agen­cies: A good price is very impor­tant as are good rela­tion­ships; this is not in ques­tion. But we have learned that this is not enough. Quite sim­ply: price is nec­es­sary but not suf­fi­cient for sus­tain­abil­ity. Considering only the finan­cial com­po­nent is very short-sighted and can negate the other con­sid­er­able fac­tors oper­at­ing in any pro­duc­tion sys­tem: social, envi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic ones. This has been amply demon­strated by thou­sands of COSA sur­veys and by a num­ber of other cred­i­ble sci­en­tific inves­ti­ga­tions just in the past few years.

We no longer live in a world of arm’s-length trans­ac­tions where we all know and trust each other, so third-party cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, such as organic, have become a vital way to rea­son­ably ensure that con­sumers (and firms) get what they expect for their money. Equally impor­tant, if not more so, we need clear assur­ances that the approaches we use enable pro­duc­ers to also achieve their own goals of sat­is­fac­tion, healthy envi­ron­ment, and a decent livelihood.

Stephen Schulman, Director of Business Development/Corporate Division, S&D Coffee, which, as the nation’s largest cus­tom roaster, is bring­ing sus­tain­able cof­fees to scale: There has been a par­a­digm shift among U.S. con­sumers. As can be seen by the rapid tra­jec­tory in growth in the organic mar­ket (which reached almost $29 bil­lion in 2010), today’s U.S. con­sumers want “all things organic,” and assume and expect that any­thing organic is “bet­ter” or “higher qual­ity.” The seg­ment of the con­sumers com­mit­ted to the organic lifestyle is increas­ing, and they want to sup­port all that organic rep­re­sents. Let’s look at the fig­ures. Organic cof­fee sales con­tinue to grow rapidly, as can be seen from the Organic Trade Association’s 2011 Organic Industry Survey. This report showed that sales of organic cof­fee were up 17.5 per­cent in 2010 from those in 2009. Similarly, sales of organic cof­fee cer­ti­fied to the SMBC’s Bird Friendly shade-grown cof­fee pro­duc­tion stan­dard rose from about $1.5 mil­lion in 2005 to more than $4 mil­lion in 2010 (assum­ing $9 per pound). The three years from 2007 to 2010 saw an aver­age of 25 per­cent annual increase in the vol­ume of Bird Friendly roasted and sold in the North American mar­ket, a growth mir­rored glob­ally as well. Consumers care about the organic label, and what it rep­re­sents to the envi­ron­ment and producers.

The experts have spo­ken. Organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is impor­tant not only from an eco­nomic per­spec­tive, but also because con­sumers expect it and are seek­ing it out, and both soci­ety and the envi­ron­ment ben­e­fits from it. There is more to spe­cialty cof­fee than money.

Sandra Marquardt is the cof­fee spokes­woman for the Organic Trade Association and President of On the Mark Public Relations.

The Expanding Market for Bird Friendly® Coffee

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

Bird Friendly® Coffee (BFC) is the world’s most strin­gent shade-grown stan­dard for cof­fee pro­duc­tion, requir­ing that cof­fee is both organ­i­cally grown and meets spe­cific shade-grown cri­te­ria devel­oped by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) at the National Zoo in 1997 to pro­tect migra­tory song­birds. These birds are not only beau­ti­ful and sonorous, but are essen­tial to the global ecosys­tem, pro­vid­ing flower pol­li­na­tion and seed dis­per­sal, among other roles.

BFC car­ries a seal of approval (logo) that assures con­sumers that all the cof­fee in the bag is organic and has met the Bird Friendly stan­dards. The cri­te­ria include: a min­i­mum canopy height of 12 meters; a species list of at least 10 trees in addi­tion to the major or “back­bone” species; at least 40 per­cent foliage den­sity; and three strata or lay­ers of veg­e­ta­tion that pro­vide struc­tural diver­sity. Criteria apply to the cof­fee pro­duc­tion area itself and are con­sid­ered by indus­try and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion spe­cial­ists to be the strictest shade stan­dards in the world, ensur­ing a claim of “shade-grown” is true.

The ben­e­fits of Bird Friendly cof­fee production

In many trop­i­cal regions where migra­tory birds have over­win­tered for mil­lions of years, BF cof­fee pro­vides viable, qual­ity habi­tat in areas often dev­as­tated by defor­esta­tion. Of the more than 150 species of song­birds that migrate to the Neo-tropics (American trop­ics) each year, includ­ing ori­oles, tan­agers, war­blers and thrushes, many use these cer­ti­fied forest-like farms as their habi­tat dur­ing their months spent there. These farms also sup­port impor­tant res­i­dent birds like tou­cans, becards, wood creep­ers, and parrots.

Aside from the obvi­ous aes­thet­ics of their singing and strik­ing plumage, migra­tory birds pro­vide a num­ber of “eco­log­i­cal ser­vices.” They pol­li­nate flow­ers, dis­perse seeds, and feast on insects. In both SMBC and other stud­ies of birds in cof­fee, research has shown that they con­sume a wide vari­ety of insects, some of them cof­fee pests.

Growers cer­ti­fied to the BFC stan­dards nor­mally see price pre­mi­ums of 5 to 10 cents per pound in addi­tion to the pre­mium they already receive for being cer­ti­fied organic. The SMBC receives roy­alty pay­ments from roast­ers (more than $450,000 since 2000) that go to an SMBC fund used for research and edu­ca­tion related to migra­tory birds in gen­eral and the cof­fee con­nec­tion specifically.

The mar­ket for Bird Friendly coffee

According to a September, 2011 report by Dr. Robert Rice, coör­di­na­tor of the Bird Friendly pro­gram, approx­i­mately 1,400 pro­duc­ers man­aged more than 18,000 acres (7,600 hectares) of BFC area/coffee farms and pro­duced more than 9.7 mil­lion pounds of BFC in 2010, a 39 per­cent increase from 2009. Guatemala ranked first in terms of pro­duc­tion (with 28 per­cent of all BFC), and, with Peru (25 per­cent), Mexico (20 per­cent), Nicaragua (15 per­cent), and Columbia (8 per­cent), the five coun­tries account for 96 per­cent of all the BFC cer­ti­fied glob­ally. The remain­ing 4 per­cent came from Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Venezuela. Farms in Nicaragua brought that coun­try into the BFC pro­gram in 2010. Efforts are under­way to gain BFC in Africa, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Sales of BFC rose 166 per­cent from about $1.5 mil­lion in 2005 when Japan entered the pro­gram to more than $4 mil­lion in 2010. Volume sold in 2010 was 466,000 pounds, up 3 per­cent from the 452,000 pounds moved in 2009, a reflec­tion of the gen­eral eco­nomic times. Projections for 2011 are on track to equal or slightly exceed the sales of 2010.

Roasters glob­ally are find­ing ready mar­kets for Bird Friendly® cof­fee among con­sumers with inter­ests in organic prod­ucts in gen­eral and cof­fee that serves as viable habi­tat for birds and other organ­isms in par­tic­u­lar. The vol­ume of BFC roasted and sold in the US between 2000 and 2010 increased more than 115-fold from fewer than 2,000 pounds to 225,000 pounds. The three years from 2007 to 2010 saw an aver­age of 25 per­cent annual increase in vol­ume roasted and sold in the North American mar­ket, a growth mir­rored glob­ally as well.

Today, there are 44 roast­ers in the U.S., Canada, The Netherlands and Japan that carry Bird Friendly® cof­fee imported by 16 com­pa­nies. Certifications are con­ducted by 13 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-accredited organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion agencies.

Given the increased aware­ness of the impor­tance of pro­tect­ing migra­tory song­birds in addi­tion to farm­ers and the envi­ron­ment in gen­eral, as well as the inter­est of many roast­ers in get­ting dou­ble or triple cer­ti­fied to dif­fer­ent stan­dards that attract dif­fer­ent con­sumers, SMBC esti­mates that sales of Bird Friendly® cof­fee will con­tinue to grow into the future.

See www.si.edu/smbc for more information.

Sandra Marquardt is pres­i­dent of On the Mark Public Relations, which pro­vides media out­reach, event coör­di­na­tion, and research ser­vices on behalf of the organic food and fiber sec­tors. Dr. Robert Rice is the coör­di­na­tor of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly cof­fee pro­gram at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.