GMCR, MIF and Skoll Foundation pledge US$7 million for rust leaf relief

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters,(GMCR), the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the InterAmerican Development Bank and Skoll Foundation announced on 7 November support for the non-profit agricultural lender Root Capital's Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative. The initiative is designed to stabilise supply chains by investing in coffee farmers at the base of the value chain, who are on the front lines of battling the leaf rust epidemic in Latin America, GMCR said in a statement. 

“We depend on a long-term supply of high-quality beans for our business,” said Lindsey Bolger, Vice President of Coffee Sourcing Excellence for GMCR in the statement. “This investment will provide coffee farming families with the tools and capacity they need to more successfully confront threats to their coffee and their livelihoods, through greater long-term resilience at the cooperative and household level.”

The announcement was made before hundreds of coffee industry professionals at Let’s Talk Roya, a solutions-oriented conference hosted by Sustainable Harvest, a private sector partner helping to implement the initiative.

The deal represents the largest-ever partnership between the organisations, aimed to combine long-term lending to finance the replacement of diseased coffee trees affected by the fungal disease with short-term trade credit, financial management training, climate-smart agronomic assistance and household-level income diversification. The US$7 million initiative will allow Root Capital to lend more than US$10 million for resilience investments, and provide financial management training, to 50 agricultural enterprises representing 40,000 farmers, reaching approximately 200,000 family members in farming communities in Latin America.

Beyond the direct impact, GMCR said that the initiative aims to serve as a blueprint for holistic investments in farmer resilience that can be replicated and scaled by other private-public partnerships in agriculture. Seeded with funding from the Skoll Foundation, the initiative complements global efforts to build the market for smallholder agricultural finance in a manner that encourages environmental stewardship and resilience, in addition to sustainable rural livelihoods. Coffee rust, called La Roya in Spanish, is a fungal disease that weakens and eventually kills coffee trees. The principal causes of the outbreak that is sweeping Central America and northern Peru today are a warmer, wetter climate; historic underinvestment in farms and aging coffee trees. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the current epidemic of coffee leaf rust is the highest incidence in 40 years, with more than half of Central America’s coffee farms infected, and losses reaching US$1 billion in the 2012-13 harvest.

“Root Capital’s Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative is a holistic approach that responds to the current crisis while investing in rural enterprises’ ability to maintain consumer supply in the face of growing shocks from climate change and volatile commodity markets,” said Willy Foote, Root Capital Founder & CEO, in a statement.  “The initiative is a blueprint for agricultural supply chain sustainability that creates shared value for farmers, buyers and consumers.”

Root Capital launched the Initiative with a US$2 million loan to SOPPEXCCA, a 650-member coffee farmer cooperative based in Jinotega, Nicaragua.  SOPPEXCCA will use the loan to renovate farms ravaged by the fungus, replacing dead coffee trees with new, high-quality, rust-resistant varietals. In Central America alone, approximately 2 million of the 43 million inhabitants are directly employed by the coffee industry, according to the ICO, which estimates that more than 400,000 became jobless after the 2013-13 harvest, due to La Roya. “This public private partnership has big implications for agricultural sustainability,” said Claudio Cortellese, Head of the Access to Markets Unit of the MIF in a statement. “It will improve the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Latin American coffee farmers while serving as a model for long-term resilience that other agricultural value chains can reproduce, from quinoa to cacao.”

“Like small businesses in the US, smallholder coffee farming is the economic engine for rural communities in Latin America,” said David Griswold, President and Founder of Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers in a statement.  “We're pleased to be working with Root Capital, IDB and GMCR to help increase farmers' resiliency to the effects of climate change, enabling them to continue to deliver the high quality coffee US consumers and the rest of the world depend on.”

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