Tag Archive for: Sustainable Harvest

by Liam Brody

Root Capital Investments in Coffee

Categories: 2015, AprilTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The New York Times’ con­ser­v­a­tive Op-Ed colum­nist David Brooks recently penned a piece on impact invest­ing — lead­ing some to ask, “Has impact invest­ing gone main­stream?” You may have just answered that ques­tion with a resound­ing no if you are ask­ing your­self, “What is impact investing?”

Impact invest­ing seeks to gen­er­ate a wide range of finan­cial returns along­side mea­sur­able social and envi­ron­men­tal impacts. J.P. Morgan esti­mates that last year, there were more than $46 bil­lion in impact invest­ments under man­age­ment, a nearly 20 per­cent increase from 2013. Just last month Unilever and The Clinton Foundation announced a $10 mil­lion impact invest­ment that will be used to strengthen small­holder value chains.

Brooks’ col­umn, How to Leave a Mark, exam­ines the role of impact invest­ing in cre­at­ing social change. Brooks touts the promise of social cap­i­tal­ism — the blend­ing of non­profit and for-profit minds — in pro­vid­ing solu­tions to vex­ing global issues from poverty to cli­mate change. There are many mod­els to look to, rang­ing from Benefit Corporations (or B Corps) like Sustainable Harvest, to social invest­ment funds like Root Capital—both of which were born in and of coffee.

Willy Foote, my part­ner in crime, founded Root Capital to grow rural pros­per­ity in low– and mid-income coun­tries. We pro­vide tools—loans and finan­cial training—that enable small and grow­ing agri­cul­tural busi­nesses to access global mar­kets and improve liveli­hoods for small­holder farm­ers. As bet­ter run, more effi­cient busi­nesses with access to cap­i­tal, Root Capital clients become more reli­able sup­pli­ers. They are able to pro­cure, process, and sell greater vol­umes of agri­cul­tural goods, like cof­fee, while also invest­ing prod­uct qual­ity and consistency—all of which is crit­i­cal to the long-term resilience and via­bil­ity of the cof­fee industry.

In 1999, we made our inau­gural loan of $73,000 to a cof­fee and car­damom coöper­a­tive in the high­lands of Guatemala. Since then, Root Capital has dis­bursed nearly $800 mil­lion in credit to 530 agri­cul­tural busi­nesses, rep­re­sent­ing 1.1 mil­lion small­holder farm­ers around the world.

While David Brooks and some of his read­ers are just wak­ing up to the power and promise of impact invest­ing, it is some­thing that the cof­fee indus­try has been brew­ing up for over a decade.

Atlantic (Ecom), Dean’s Beans, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (now Keurig Green Mountain), and Starbucks were among Root Capital’s first investors. These trail­blaz­ers’ pio­neer­ing invest­ments were cat­alytic for Root Capital. On a larger scale, I believe that they are the unsung heroes of impact invest­ing. Their lead­er­ship has helped give rise a new finan­cial ser­vices indus­try, focused on serv­ing the world’s 450 mil­lion small­holder farmers.

Thanks to those early inno­va­tors and the hun­dreds of investors who have fol­lowed, Root Capital reached an impor­tant mile­stone ear­lier this year. For the first time in our his­tory, our out­stand­ing port­fo­lio bal­ance – the amount of cap­i­tal we have actively deployed – has exceeded the $100 mil­lion mark. Whether you look at this mile­stone from the per­spec­tive of scal­ing our direct impact on farm fam­i­lies or evi­dence on new mod­els for using cap­i­tal for good, we hope this accom­plish­ment can serve as a tes­ta­ment to the via­bil­ity of our clients, our model for impact-driven agri­cul­tural finance, and the emerg­ing field of impact investing.

Brooks ended his piece by say­ing that if we want to leave our mark and cre­ate pos­i­tive change in the world, we should con­sider get­ting involved in impact invest­ing. We couldn’t agree more. It’s proven, and we have a 15-year track record to show for it. Impact invest­ing works because we work together. And together, we are grow­ing pros­per­ity through­out the entire value chain—including –and espe­cially– for farm­ers, who are the very lifeblood of this industry.

By Liam Brody, Root Capital


Categories: 2014, NovemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Turn on the tele­vi­sion or open a news­pa­per, and you would be hard-pressed not to find infor­ma­tion on ‘liv­ing green.’ The green move­ment has embraced the global cof­fee mar­ket­place and cap­tured the atten­tion of con­sumers like never before. From sus­tain­able cof­fee pro­duc­tion prac­tices to eco-friendly cof­fee prod­ucts and water con­ser­va­tion, ‘going green’ is caus­ing spe­cialty cof­fee busi­nesses to take notice and change the way they’re doing business.

A Growing Trend

Consider this sta­tis­tic: According to the National Coffee Association, nearly eight out of ten Americans drink cof­fee. It’s clear that cof­fee is one of America’s favorite bev­er­ages. And as cof­fee con­tin­ues to heat up sales at cof­fee­houses across the nation, con­sumers are tak­ing notice of organic, cer­ti­fied organic, and sus­tain­able cof­fee programs.

Although there is still the con­sumer that just wants “a cup of joe,” most con­sumers expect more from their cof­fee and are will­ing to pay more for it. Today’s con­sumer knows the dif­fer­ence between “com­mod­ity” cof­fee (i.e., from a can at the gro­cery store) and spe­cialty cof­fee, and vote with their dol­lars for what they drink.

But what exactly do the terms sus­tain­able, organic, cer­ti­fied organic, direct trade, and direct rela­tion­ship, mean to pro­duc­ers, retail­ers, and con­sumers alike? And what effect are these ide­olo­gies hav­ing on the indus­try as a whole?

Reykia Fick, media rela­tions man­ager at Fairtrade International says that any effec­tive approach to sus­tain­abil­ity must start with peo­ple. “For Fairtrade, we start with the posi­tion of the farmer. For farm­ers to con­tinue to feed the world into the future, they need to earn enough to have a decent liveli­hood and rein­vest into their farms,” Fick says. “They need to farm in a way that respects their local ecol­ogy so their fields will stay fer­tile. They need to build strong busi­nesses and rein­vest in their com­mu­ni­ties to strengthen their posi­tion and attract the next gen­er­a­tion to farming.”

So how do organic and Fairtrade labels coin­cide within the cof­fee indus­try? “Organic” and “Fairtrade” are two dif­fer­ent but com­pli­men­tary cer­ti­fi­ca­tions that can be run par­al­lel or sep­a­rately. As Fick explains, organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion means that agri­cul­tural meth­ods to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment have been under­taken in the farm­ing of a crop. While Fairtrade  International has require­ments for sus­tain­able farm­ing tech­niques, empow­er­ment and improv­ing the liveli­hoods of farm­ers and work­ers is the core aim of Fairtrade.

For pro­duc­ers who lack resources, improv­ing their eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion through Fairtrade International can be a pre­req­ui­site for gain­ing organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. “Fairtrade deliv­ers ben­e­fits to small-scale farm­ers such as sta­ble prices and funds for devel­op­ment,” Fick says. “This brings the sta­bil­ity and invest­ment thou­sands of pro­duc­ers have needed to con­vert to organic. Once organic cer­ti­fied, Fairtrade farm­ers and work­ers ben­e­fit from higher prices for many products.”

According to Bill Fishbein, founder and pres­i­dent of The Coffee Trust, the var­i­ous com­mer­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and non-commercial efforts are all part of the effort toward sus­tain­abil­ity. “That said, com­mer­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­tions are lim­ited, as con­di­tions of the trade are steeply tilted in favor of mer­chants over pro­duc­ers and com­mer­cial inter­ests are not nec­es­sar­ily always con­sis­tent with com­mu­nity inter­ests. Commercial inter­ests are always look­ing to ensure a fluid line of sup­ply. This is not a bad thing, and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions help to estab­lish a price that war­rants a con­sis­tent sup­ply chain. However, hav­ing a fluid line of sup­ply as a pri­or­ity for com­merce is not nec­es­sar­ily con­sis­tent with a community’s pri­or­ity for its own development.”

Direct Ties

Marilyn Dryke with the Café Femenino Foundation, says that direct trade was a mar­ket­ing term that was cre­ated to help roast­ers sell cof­fee. “Though a few roast­ers may have the knowl­edge or abil­ity to buy and import their own con­tain­ers of cof­fee, most roast­ing com­pa­nies rely on importers and exporters to get their cof­fee here and to hold the cof­fee until they are ready to buy it and roast it,” Dryke says. “With the term ‘direct trade’ peo­ple may be lead to believe that the seller is buy­ing and import­ing the cof­fee directly from a cof­fee farmer or a coöper­a­tive.  So from our per­spec­tive it is a con­fus­ing term that is loosely used.  There is no ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem for this concept.”

George Kim, cof­fee qual­ity man­ager at Caffebene defines direct trade as the process where the buyer and the farmer agree upon cer­tain stan­dards and processes—from pro­duc­tion to cul­ti­vat­ing, har­vest­ing, dry­ing, and such. The buyer is directly involved in the process.

The trend is shift­ing away from buy­ing cof­fee beans in bulk through dis­tri­b­u­tion com­pa­nies. Rather, roast­ers are going directly to the farm­ers after sur­vey­ing the soil and the envi­ron­ment of the farm,” Kim says. “People believe this truly insures the qual­ity of the beans. Also, roast­ers use this unique story as a way of mar­ket­ing, inform­ing the con­sumers how and under what con­di­tions the beans that they are drink­ing were harvested.”

In Korea, Caffebene has a direct rela­tion­ship with the Ipanema farm. All cof­fee beans pro­duced from this farm are only exported into Caffebene in Korea. “The rea­son for doing this is to have a story with a spe­cific farm that pro­duces the cof­fee just the way we want,” Kim says. “There are no third par­ties involved. We cer­tify the qual­ity our­selves. As it is only imported to Caffebene Korea, we can guar­an­tee the quality.”

So how is the term “direct rela­tion­ships” dif­fer­ent from “direct trade”?

Dryke says that “direct rela­tion­ships” also is a mar­ket­ing term that was devel­oped to help move cof­fee. “Roasters can work with their importers to actu­ally go and meet the farm­ers they work with, and a few have the abil­ity to actu­ally buy a full con­tain in order to import them­selves,” Dryke says. “Some importers may also mar­ket their cof­fees as direct rela­tion­ship, and prob­a­bly many of them actu­ally do have direct rela­tion­ships, but there is no spe­cific cri­te­ria attached to this term, so it is a loosely used term with some com­pa­nies or indi­vid­u­als using it as they wish.”

While indus­try experts may have dif­fer­ing opin­ions about the ter­mi­nol­ogy sur­round­ing sus­tain­able prac­tices within the cof­fee indus­try, cer­ti­fi­ca­tions are key tokens that ensure stan­dards and cri­te­ria are annu­ally sub­stan­ti­ated so that con­sumers know the claims that are being made are true and verified.

With these cer­ti­fi­ca­tions the expec­ta­tion is that the cof­fee or other prod­ucts will actu­ally gen­er­ate higher incomes for the pro­duc­ers who are hav­ing their cof­fees cer­ti­fied,” Dryke says. There are loans and funds avail­able for farm­ers who which to go through a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process, or the coöper­a­tive or export com­pa­nies can also help the farm­ers with the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process.”

Most cer­ti­fi­ca­tion orga­ni­za­tions are also will­ing to assist in this process even though they may not be pro­vid­ing fund­ing.  Consumers have a choice whether to buy a cer­ti­fied prod­uct, which are gen­er­ally more expen­sive because of the cost of the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and even the pro­duc­tion and pro­cess­ing can be more expen­sive.  “Today we see more organ­ics on main­stream store shelves, which would indi­cate that con­sumers are grow­ing more and more will­ing to pay the extra cost to assure that they are get­ting a prod­uct with the ver­i­fi­ca­tion that assures them the prod­uct is organic or fair trade or what­ever the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is for,” Dryke says.

Economic & Social Impact of Sustainability

Brent Toevs, CEO of Marley Coffee says that sus­tain­abil­ity in the cof­fee mar­ket encap­su­lates a com­bi­na­tion of eco­nomic and social impact. According to Toevs, eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity involves the use of var­i­ous strate­gies for employ­ing exist­ing resources opti­mally so that a respon­si­ble and ben­e­fi­cial bal­ance can be achieved over the longer term. Environmental sus­tain­abil­ity involves the main­te­nance of the fac­tors and prac­tices that con­tribute to the qual­ity of envi­ron­ment on a long-term basis. And social sus­tain­abil­ity involves the abil­ity of a com­mu­nity to develop processes and struc­tures that not only meet the needs of its cur­rent mem­bers but also sup­port the abil­ity of future gen­er­a­tions to main­tain a healthy community.

And it’s the role of many non­prof­its within the indus­try to over­see the sus­tain­abil­ity of the cof­fee indus­try, its prac­tices, and its pro­duc­ers. Experts agree that non-profits within the cof­fee indus­try have a vital role to play in build­ing a more sus­tain­able cof­fee sec­tor, while tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the eco­nomic and social impact that sus­tain­abil­ity has on the peo­ple and their prod­ucts. “We can act as a plat­form for farm­ers to tell indus­try what they need to have sus­tain­able liveli­hoods and deliver the sup­ply busi­nesses need,” Fick says.

Nonprofits also have an invalu­able role to play in sup­port­ing com­pa­nies to do busi­ness in a bet­ter way. For exam­ple at Fairtrade International, they have built an alter­na­tive way to do busi­ness, based on prin­ci­ples of fair­ness in trade. “We have devel­oped this over the years with the input of count­less part­ners, from farm­ers and work­ers on down the line to importers, brands, retail­ers and con­sumers,” Fick says. “By work­ing with Fairtrade, busi­nesses can live their val­ues, invest in the peo­ple and the sus­tain­abil­ity of their sup­ply chain, and be rec­og­nized for their good work via the Fairtrade mark, the world’s most rec­og­nized and highly trusted eth­i­cal label.”

Fishbein stresses that respon­si­ble non-profits are not lim­ited to com­mer­cial inter­ests. “They focus on com­mu­nity pri­or­i­ties, such as but not lim­ited to, edu­ca­tion, health care, food pro­grams, alter­na­tive incomes and help­ing local com­mu­ni­ties take con­trol over their own future. However, while non­prof­its may be able to help a com­mu­nity chart its own course, which may include strength­en­ing its capac­ity for com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion, non-profits are out­side of the com­mer­cial process and should steer clear of inter­fer­ing in estab­lished com­mer­cial rela­tion­ships,” Fishbein says. “While both have essen­tial roles to play in the effort toward sus­tain­abil­ity at ori­gin, nei­ther by itself is any­where close to achiev­ing sus­tain­abil­ity. That can only be achieved over the long run—and it will be a very long run—as long as each respects the value of the other and nei­ther think they have dis­cov­ered all of the answers.”

Brent Toevs, CEO of Marley Coffee, says that there are many non­profit NGOs con­tribut­ing to sus­tain­abil­ity mea­sures in cof­fee grow­ing regions through­out the world. For exam­ple, the WaterWise Coffee Initiative backed by the NGO TechnoServe cre­ates a low-cost, sus­tain­able solu­tion for treat­ing waste­water pro­duced as a result of wet milling cof­fee in the Sidama region of Ethiopia. “By installing nat­ural grass­lands near the site of cof­fee mills, WaterWise is able to pro­tect the water qual­ity of the Kolla River for both the pro­duc­ers and the nearby res­i­dents,” Toevs says.

Also, the non­profit Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA), a con­sor­tium of global orga­ni­za­tions led by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), is devel­op­ing and apply­ing sci­en­tific met­rics to under­stand sus­tain­abil­ity impacts at the field level. COSA’s stated pur­pose is to mea­sure sus­tain­abil­ity and its man­date is to achieve “a cred­i­ble set of com­mon global mea­sures for agri­cul­tural sus­tain­abil­ity along the three bal­anced prin­ci­ples (envi­ron­men­tal, social, and eco­nomic).” The unan­i­mous International Coffee Organization endorse­ment of the COSA pro­gram notes that COSA builds man­age­ment capac­ity with local part­ner­ships in pro­duc­ing coun­tries to facil­i­tate an under­stand­ing of the effects (costs and ben­e­fits) of the many sus­tain­abil­ity initiatives.

Other key non­prof­its and industry-specific orga­ni­za­tions that play a key role in the sus­tain­abil­ity efforts fac­ing the indus­try includ­ing Grounds for Health, Café Femenino, Coffee Kids, Sustainable Harvest, Coffee Cares, Food for Farmers, Puebla a Puebla, and the Coffee Trust, to name a few.

In the case of the Café Femenino Foundation, they are focused on help­ing women to achieve human rights through grant pro­grams that focus on health, edu­ca­tion and income diversification.

It is up to the pro­duc­ers to tell us what they need in order to improve their lives and their family’s lives for the future,” says Gay Smith, founder of Café Femenino Foundation. “Ensuring that there is food to eat after the har­vest to pre­vent mal­nu­tri­tion in the chil­dren, or clean water to drink. Educating the chil­dren through new schools, libraries or books. All are part of a sys­tem that will sus­tain the cof­fee farmer into the future.”

Without this type of sup­port, chil­dren will leave the cof­fee farm to look for other type of work because they see how dif­fi­cult life is on a cof­fee farm. Additionally, the abuse and aban­don­ment of chil­dren and women will con­tinue with­out some type of inter­ven­tion, as will the poverty cycle. Seventy-five per­cent of the world’s cof­fee is pro­duced by small cof­fee farm­ers work­ing on ½ acre to five-acre farms.

The work of the foun­da­tion is cru­cial to the sus­tain­abil­ity of the small cof­fee pro­duc­ers, and more and more com­pa­nies are start­ing to see the impor­tance of this work or work like the foun­da­tions’,” Smith says. “Our indus­try needs to look at ways that we can all con­tribute to a more equi­table cof­fee value chain.”

Definitions & Certifications

Certified Organic: In order for cof­fee to be cer­ti­fied and sold as organic in the United States, it must be pro­duced in accor­dance with U.S. stan­dards for organic pro­duc­tion and cer­ti­fied by an agency accred­ited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. require­ments for organic cof­fee pro­duc­tion include farm­ing with­out syn­thetic pes­ti­cides or other pro­hib­ited sub­stances for three years and a sus­tain­able crop rota­tion plan to pre­vent ero­sion, the deple­tion of soil nutri­ents, and con­trol for pests. Source: Organic Trade Association (

Organic: Organic cof­fee is grown using meth­ods and mate­ri­als that have a low impact on the envi­ron­ment. Organic pro­duc­tion sys­tems replen­ish and main­tain soil fer­til­ity, reduce the use of toxic and per­sis­tent pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers, and build bio­log­i­cally diverse agri­cul­ture. Third-party cer­ti­fi­ca­tion orga­ni­za­tions ver­ify that organic farm­ers abide by the law. Source: Organic Trade Association (

Sustainable: Sustainable farm­ing within the cof­fee indus­try imple­ments prac­tices to min­i­mize water con­sump­tion and to clean the water used. Water from the fer­men­ta­tion tanks should never be returned to rivers or lakes, but rather fil­tered nat­u­rally through the earth and then used for cof­fee irri­ga­tion. A sus­tain­able farm gives back as much to the land and peo­ple as it receives.  It seeks inde­pen­dence from non-renewable resources, using renew­able resources when pos­si­ble. Sustainable farm­ing also min­i­mizes pol­lu­tion, takes steps to care for the envi­ron­ment, and cares for its employ­ees. Source:

Fair Trade: Fair Trade cer­ti­fi­ca­tion focuses on labor and trade stan­dards to pro­vide small-farmer co-operatives a guar­an­teed price above the con­ven­tional mar­ket. Not all Fair Trade CertifiedTM cof­fee is nec­es­sar­ily organic. However, Fair Trade CertifiedTM does require strict envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship such as pro­hibit­ing the use of genet­i­cally mod­i­fied organ­isms (GMOs) and the most haz­ardous pes­ti­cides. Fifty nine per­cent of all Fair Trade CertifiedTM cof­fee imported into the United States in 2008 was cer­ti­fied organic. In the United States, trans­ac­tions must be audited by TransFair USA to use a Fair Trade CertifiedTM label. Certified organic pro­duc­ers of Fair Trade cof­fee receive at least $1.55/lb.Source: Organic Trade Association (

Direct Trade: Direct trade is a term used by cof­fee roast­ers who buy straight from the grow­ers, cut­ting out both the tra­di­tional mid­dle­man buy­ers and sell­ers and also the orga­ni­za­tions that con­trol cer­ti­fi­ca­tions such as Fair Trade and Bird Friendly. Direct trade pro­po­nents say their model is the best because they build mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial and respect­ful rela­tion­ships with indi­vid­ual pro­duc­ers or coop­er­a­tives in the coffee-producing coun­tries. Source:

Direct Relationship: Relationship cof­fees rep­re­sent a unique, grass­roots oppor­tu­nity for cof­fee drinkers to con­tribute toward the suc­cess and devel­op­ment of coffee-producing com­mu­ni­ties in third-world coun­tries. For exam­ple, the Coffee Roasters’ Alliance sup­ports and “adopts” spe­cific farms and coop­er­a­tives through Relationship Coffee pro­grams. These pro­grams uniquely develop a “close-touch” plat­form designed to estab­lish a direct rela­tion­ship between cof­fee drinkers and the com­mu­ni­ties that grow their cof­fee. Relationship Coffees offer the poten­tial for gen­er­a­tional pros­per­ity within coffee-growing com­mu­ni­ties. Source:

Rainforest Alliance: The Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal is an inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized sym­bol of envi­ron­men­tal, social and eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity that helps both busi­nesses and con­sumers do their part to ensure a brighter future for us all. In order for a farm or forestry enter­prise to achieve Rainforest Alliance cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, or for a tourism busi­ness to be ver­i­fied, it must meet rig­or­ous stan­dards designed to pro­tect ecosys­tems, safe­guard the well-being of local com­mu­ni­ties, and improve pro­duc­tiv­ity. The Rainforest Alliance then links these farm­ers, foresters and tourism busi­nesses to the grow­ing global com­mu­nity of con­sci­en­tious con­sumers through the green frog seal. Source:

UTZ: UTZ Certified stands for sus­tain­able farm­ing and bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ties for farm­ers, their fam­i­lies and our planet. The UTZ pro­gram enables farm­ers to learn bet­ter farm­ing meth­ods, improve work­ing con­di­tions and take bet­ter care of their chil­dren and the envi­ron­ment. Source:

4C: The mem­bers of the 4C Association have devel­oped the 4C Code of Conduct, which sets social, envi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic prin­ci­ples for the sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing and trad­ing of green cof­fee. The 4C Code has a mod­er­ate entry level, includ­ing the exclu­sion of ten Unacceptable Practices, and com­mits par­tic­i­pants to con­tin­u­ous improve­ment. Source:

Equal Exchange: Equal Exchange’s mis­sion is to build long-term trade part­ner­ships that are eco­nom­i­cally just and envi­ron­men­tally sound, to fos­ter mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion­ships between farm­ers and con­sumers and to demon­strate, through our suc­cess, the con­tri­bu­tion of worker coop­er­a­tives and Fair Trade to a more equi­table, demo­c­ra­tic and sus­tain­able world. Source:

Cup of Excellence: Cup of Excellence is the most pres­ti­gious award given to a fine qual­ity cof­fee. The level of scrutiny that Cup of Excellence cof­fees undergo is unmatched any­where in the cof­fee indus­try. All of the Cup of Excellence award win­ners are cupped at least 5 times (the ‘Top 10’ are cupped again) dur­ing the 3-week com­pe­ti­tion. During this selec­tion process, thou­sands of cups are eval­u­ated, tasted and scored based on their exem­plary char­ac­ter­is­tics. The prices that these win­ning cof­fees receive at auc­tion have bro­ken records and proven that there is a huge demand for these rare farmer iden­ti­fied cof­fees. Source:

Roya Coming to a Café Near You

Categories: 2013, SeptemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

IMG_8486Over the last six months, news of the Latin American Roya cri­sis has slowly made its way through the cof­fee sup­ply chain. The closer you are to ori­gin, the more famil­iar the story: Governments declar­ing states of emer­gency; crop dam­age of up to 30–70% with par­tic­u­larly heavy losses in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; Casualty of more than 500,000 cof­fee related jobs lead­ing to con­cerns regard­ing social unrest. The lat­ter was demon­strated just last week when inde­pen­dent cof­fee farm­ers in Peru orga­nized a strike demand­ing for­give­ness of debts and government-funded ren­o­va­tion to address the impact of Roya. Although short-lived (the strike lasted two days) the result­ing road block­age had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on travel and move­ment of goods, includ­ing cof­fee headed to market.

But the story is not just about the impact at ori­gin. This year’s Roya cri­sis will have a last­ing impact on every­one involved in the cof­fee sup­ply chain. As we saw in Peru, gov­ern­ments are under pres­sure to sup­port relief efforts via financ­ing for ren­o­va­tion, debt reduc­tion, or strength­en­ing social safety nets. NGOs are seek­ing ways to scale food secu­rity and income diver­sity pro­grams. Banks and other financiers are look­ing at new risk man­age­ment strate­gies. For roast­ers and retail­ers, qual­ity is as much an issue as sup­ply – both of which have sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on prod­uct devel­op­ment, pack­ag­ing, and pricing.

In early April, Sustainable Harvest launched the Roya Recovery Project with the goal of get­ting the most cred­i­ble and use­ful infor­ma­tion in the hands of Roya-affected farm­ers and co-op lead­ers to enable them to make edu­cated deci­sions on how to best mit­i­gate the longterm impact of the dis­ease. The infor­ma­tion is intended to be applic­a­ble to all pro­duc­ers, but places a par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on solu­tions for organic farm­ers who can­not adopt con­ven­tional, chemical-based treat­ment solutions.

The first deliv­er­able under the Roya Recovery Project was the Roya Recovery Toolkit – a man­ual and DVD that aggre­gates insight and rec­om­men­da­tions from the most cred­i­ble sources in the Central American cof­fee indus­try. Our goal is to work with indus­try part­ners to get the con­tent in the hands of as many farm­ers as pos­si­ble. Already, we’ve received tremen­dous sup­port from Birdrock, Café Moto, Café Mystique, Dillanos, and Green Mountain who either helped fund the devel­op­ment of the toolkit or who have pur­chased copies for distribution.

But work­ing with farm­ers only helps address half the prob­lem. As the Relationship Coffee Model demon­strates, the power is in con­nect­ing farm­ers with those on the other end of the sup­ply chain to estab­lish trans­parency and com­mon understanding.

This what we are seek­ing to accom­plish at Let’s Talk Roya– an open event for every­one across the global cof­fee sup­ply chain with an inter­est in address­ing the short– and long– term impli­ca­tions of Roya. Held November 3–6 at the Royal Decameron in El Salvador, the event will lever­age the Let’s Talk Coffee® model of bring­ing cof­fee sup­ply chain stake­hold­ers together for direct con­ver­sa­tions and col­lab­o­ra­tive problem-solving.

Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to roast­ers and retail­ers will be a unique oppor­tu­nity to join oth­ers to detect and dis­cuss Roya’s impact on taste and qual­ity through a series of cup­ping ses­sions. We see this expectation-setting as crit­i­cal in the con­ver­sa­tions between sup­pli­ers, cer­ti­fiers and roast­ers rel­a­tive to mar­ket oppor­tu­nity over the next two to three years. The event will also fea­ture farm trips where par­tic­i­pants can wit­ness the impacts of cli­mate change on cof­fee farms firsthand.

Here at Sustainable Harvest, we believe Let’s Talk Roya will bridge the infor­ma­tion gap between pro­duc­ers and roast­ers and cre­ate the foun­da­tion for col­lab­o­ra­tive prob­lem solv­ing around the Roya chal­lenge. With this mutual under­stand­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion can flour­ish, ideas can spark, and a uni­fied recov­ery canbe a real­ity. With Let’s Talk Roya, the ongo­ing Roya Recovery Project, Sustainable Harvest, and our part­ners aim to over­come the chal­lenges of Roya and cli­mate change in the long-term, strength­en­ing the resiliency of the sup­ply chain that Relationship Coffee is founded on. From there, we can con­tinue to inno­vate, trans­form­ing the stan­dard for respon­si­ble, qual­ity sourcing.

Join us at Let’s Talk Roya. November 3–6, 3013 in El Salvador. More infor­ma­tion about the event, includ­ing reg­is­tra­tion can be found at

Are you “Q” yet?

Categories: 2011, AugustTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The lat­est craze in cof­fee is not a new fancy drink, sin­gle serve tech­nique, or a newly dis­cov­ered ori­gin. It is a com­mit­ment to qual­ity in cof­fee by get­ting cer– tified as a Q-Grader. So does this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion add value to you and the cof­fee indus­try or is it just the lat­est fad?

The Q-Grader pro­gram is designed to give a com­mon lan­guage to describe qual­ity in cof­fee and is used from the farmer to the con­sumer. It quan­ti­fies cof­fee attrib­utes and gets all par­tic­i­pants to iden­tify taste char­ac­ter­is­tics in the same way. The true pur­pose there­fore is to be able to com­mu­ni­cate qual­ity up and down the sup­ply chain and raise the over­all qual­ity of cof­fee in the process.

Jeremy Raths of The Roastery in Minneapolis, and a Q-Grader Instructor, describes the Q-Certification of cof­fee this way, “For the cof­fee indus­try it is the only cer­ti­fica– tion based on Quality. It is totally blind, inde­pen­dent and adher­ing to a strict pro­to­col. It is all about the cof­fee. No guilt, no shame, just cof­fee qual­ity. It is a way that the whole chain can objec­tively look at a cof­fee using quantification.”

When cof­fee is quan­ti­fied it means that it has been rated on a numeric scale from 1–100. Each of ten attrib­utes of a sin­gle sam­ple of cof­fee is rated from 1–10. Since there are ten attrib­utes they add up to the total score. Grading is done using the SCAA cup– ping form and it looks like this:

It takes an immense amount of train­ing and dis­ci­pline to be able to con­sis­tently give scores that are cal­i­brated with oth­ers. When you can prove that you have the skill to iden­tify both the attrib­utes and defects of cof­fee sam­ples con­sis­tently, then you can become a Q-Grader.

In order to prove your skills, the Coffee Quality Institute devel­oped the Q-Grader Certification Program that con­sists of 22 tests that must be passed. These tests are usu­ally given with lec­tures over an intense five-day period. The classes must take place in labs that have been cer­ti­fied by the SCAA and taught by cer­ti­fied instruc­tors. If you suc­ceed in pass­ing the tests and get cer­ti­fied as a Q-Grader, you have joined an élite group of cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als that have all cal­i­brated in the same way. You now have a com­mon ‘Q-Language’ that you can use to dis­cuss cof­fee quality.

Students come from all facets of the cof­fee sup­ply chain. Farmers and exporters from pro­duc­ing coun­tries get cer­ti­fied because they under­stand first-hand how qual­ity can affect price. They are com­mit­ted to learn­ing all they can to not only improve qual­ity but to com­mu­ni­cate with importers and roast­ers in a mean­ing­ful way.

The importers and roast­ers are get­ting cer­ti­fied for the rec­i­p­ro­cal rea­son as farm­ers and exporters. Roasters will use this skill set to start being more spe­cific on their orders to their importers. A small roaster can describe with con­fi­dence their desired fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tics and over­all scores. Importers with Q-Graders on staff are apt to see more busi­ness because “they speak” the com­mon lan­guage with their Q-Grader clients. They also add value and cred­i­bil­ity to their cus­tomers, the retail­ers, by being able to describe with con­fi­dence the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the cof­fee which can then be used to mar­ket the end products.

David Griswald, President of Sustainable Harvest shared this suc­cess story of the Q-Coffee sys­tem. “Sustainable Harvest adopted the Q pro­gram to stan­dard­ize our qual­ity con­trol teams not only between our offices in the US, Colombia, Tanzania, Mexico, and Peru, but also with pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions in 15 dif­fer­ent coun­tries
that sup­ply us spe­cialty cof­fee. Sustainable Harvest made a great com­mit­ment to the Q-grader pro­gram by fund­ing train­ing pro­grams for Q cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for our sup­pli­ers, and nearly half of the staff is cer­ti­fied. Currently we have 15 cer­ti­fied Q-graders and one Q instruc­tor among our staff world­wide. The Chirinos Coöperative sent their cup­per, Eber Tocto, to par­tic­i­pate in a Q Grader course and he passed with fly­ing col­ors. In 2010, Chirinos sold its dif­fer­en­ti­ated qual­ity lots to Sustainable Harvest who paid Chirinos $2.30 a pound for a stan­dard qual­ity lot, while Chirinos’ top qual­ity lot pulled in $2.80 a pound. This addi­tional qual­ity bonus is a direct result of an edu­cated cup­per who is trained to pro­vide his cus­tomers the high qual­ity cof­fee they want at the price it deserves.”

Retailers and even baris­tas are see­ing the value in get­ting cer­ti­fied. It makes it eas­ier to talk to your roaster about their next cus­tom espresso blend and the desired charac– ter­is­tics they are look­ing for to win the WBC. For a barista it also gives ‘street cred’as they stand apart from their peers. Other retail­ers are going one step fur­ther and get­ting the cof­fee Q-Graded.

Q-Grading a cof­fee is done by sub­mit­ting cof­fee to an agency of CQI. They are called In Country Partners, (ICP) and they act as an inde­pen­dent third party to orga­nize a grad­ing of a sin­gle lot of green cof­fee. One of the roles of being cer­ti­fied as a Q-Grader is to grade cof­fee. The process goes like this:

  1. A cof­fee is sub­mit­ted to an ICP.
  2. Three Q-Graders (That have no finan­cial inter­est in the cof­fee) are cho­sen by the ICP to grade the coffee.
  3. One of the Q-Graders grades both the green cof­fee for defects and the roasted cof­fee for cup qual­ity. The other two graders just focus on cup quality.
  4. The three scores are com­bined to get an over­all score. Anything above a score of 80 is con­sid­ered specialty.
  5. A full report is issued to the per­son that sub­mit­ted the coffee.

With that report a retailer can adver­tise the score and high­light taste attrib­utes for their mar­ket­ing pur­poses. There is a ton of cred­i­bil­ity in say­ing the cof­fee was CERTIFIED by a third party. There is also more money in it.

So should you get your Q-Certification? Most cer­tainly! Why? Here are some reasons:

  • By tak­ing the course and the tests you will learn more in a week than you know from your entire career so far.
  • You will improve your stand­ing in the indus­try and in your com­pany as some­one who doesn’t just claim exper­tise but has been cer­ti­fied as an expert.
  • Your abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with other mem­bers of the sup­ply chain increases and your abil­ity to influ­ence qual­ity from those you are deal­ing with gets easier.
  • Ego (Well that could just be me…)
  • Raths says, “Personally, the Q-Certification is a state­ment of abil­i­ties. It is an eas­ily rec­og­nized affir­ma­tion of a high skill set. It is a badge of honor with in the cof­fee industry.

Griswald adds, “A fre­quent com­ment I hear from cup­pers at ori­gin is that hav­ing this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion helps them make a case for earn­ing a higher salary.”

The entire cof­fee indus­try is well served when the peo­ple who make it up com­mit to learn­ing. Wine has som­me­liers, trades­men have mas­ters, food has chefs. The cof­fee indus­try has Q-Graders.

Rocky can be reached at

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