ICO: a year of firsts

This year has been an exciting and eventful one for the International Coffee Organization. It has undertaken a restructuring of its upper levels, adopted an annual theme for the group, created a sustainability projects trust fund, and announced that the United States would withdraw from the International Coffee Agreement as of 3 June, 2018. Add to this the upcoming 122nd session of the International Coffee Council (ICC), scheduled for London in September, and ICO Head of Operations Gerardo Patacconi, who stepped into the role in January 2018, has had no choice but to hit the ground running. Patacconi boasts an impressive curriculum vitae, with more than 30 years of international experience and knowledge of the challenges and dynamics of global trade and private sector development, with a focus on agribusiness and commodity-based industries. He has managed large-scale teams and mobilised significant funding for sustainable value chains, including coffee, and his most recent prior role was as Director of the Agribusiness Development Department for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Born in Italy, Patacconi is fluent in English, French, and Spanish in addition to his mother tongue, and has a unique understanding of the specificities and needs of developing countries, as well as multilateral, regional, and bilateral trade issues. Patacconi says he is a strong believer in the multilateral system as a way to bring together countries and parties with different objectives, which are sometimes in conflict, to find common, win-win solutions. “The ICO exists to support the implementation of the International Coffee Agreement (2007),” he says. “It brings together exporting and importing countries, public and private sector, donors and potential beneficiaries, experts, and technology providers. “In addition, official statistics on coffee are collected, processed and disseminated. Finally, the ICO is mandated to assist countries and all coffee stakeholders to identify challenges and opportunities, design technical cooperation projects, attract funding, and foster public and private sector partnerships.”  As the representative body for its now 50 member countries (the European Union represents all its member States as one member), the ICO chose the topic of Woman and Coffee as its first annual theme this year, and is also focusing on the role of women in coffee for this year’s International Coffee Day campaign. A study on gender equality in the coffee sector was presented to the ICC at its 121st session in Mexico City, Mexico, in April, and Patacconi says this is a global issue. “It is a key issue in agriculture and so is relevant for the coffee sector with the strong presence of women involved, especially in the agricultural segment of the supply chain,” he says. “Empowering women and providing equal opportunities including access to finance and knowledge, it is estimated, can increase productivity between 2 and 4 per cent. Therefore, in addition to achieving social justice, it is also a market opportunity.” The study presented in Mexico proposed the next steps the ICO could take to encourage gender equity in the coffee sector. These were to raise awareness about the role of and promote higher participation of women in coffee, harness public-private partnerships to measure progress toward achieving the sustainable development goal of gender equality, review the relation between gender and trends in coffee consumption, and ensure that all development projects and initiatives supported by the ICO aim to address and provide solutions to reduce the gender gap in the coffee sector.
Looking ahead to the September session of the ICC in London, Patacconi says it will be exciting, with a lot of innovations. “It is going to be a very important council, to confront a budget affected by the USA withdrawal, but to reiterate the importance of the Organization,” he says. “It will be the first Council where all the committee have benefited by setting up ICO Permanent Secretaries to liaise and work with the chairs. It will be the pilot Council where a yearly theme is selected and the analytical work is presented.” The Council will also hold specific events open to the public such as an exhibition on innovation and technology, and a forum to present new financing schemes for the coffee sector, such as block chains, green bonds and small grower insurance systems based on big data. A round table discussion will also be held with international organisations and donors who support and finance the coffee sector, such as the World Bank and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and a Donors Fair for members to discuss how to develop and fund development projects with donors and other partners. As for the status of the US, at the time of going to print, a delegation from the ICO was heading to the US to ask the Trump Administration to reconsider its decision. “I think it is a ‘mission impossible’,” Patacconi says, “but we have all seen movies with a happy ending.” GCR For more information, visit

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