ICO’s strategic review sets course for the future

With more than five decades of history working to bring together the perspectives and voices of the many government organisations that play a role in undefined

the global coffee industry, the International Coffee Organization (ICO) has seen seismic shifts in the way the international coffee industry works.

As the world around it has changed, so too has the ICO, but in late 2016 the organisation resolved to undertake a strategic review “with the goal of sharpening the strategic focus and defining better the priorities of the Organization and its members, in order to provide adequate guidance to the secretariat.”

Charged with conducting this review was the ICO’s Head of Operations, Marcela Urueña Gómez.

Over a period of four months, Urueña consulted widely with the ICO’s key stakeholders, both through remote surveys and physical meetings.

“Overall, it was clear to everyone involved in the review (ICO member governments and the ICO staff) that this kind of process was long overdue and critical to the future of the Organization,” Urueña tells Global Coffee Report. “One thing that was quite surprising to us was the overwhelming response we had to a public survey we conducted where hundreds of members of the coffee community gave us their honest feedback on the work of the Organization and what could be done to improve. Ultimately, the ICO is an intergovernmental organisation and that means we’re here to serve the entire coffee community, both public and private, so we were pleasantly surprised and honoured that so many people gave us their feedback.”

Over the course of the consultation, Urueña says that the overall response to the direction of the ICO was positive, but expectations for the work it does were high.

“Our stakeholders believe that the ICO does a great deal for the coffee sector – they really believe that having an organisation that brings together players from all the different governing bodies and gives them the ability to discuss the challenges that are facing the coffee sector and how to tackle them at such a high level is something that is of paramount importance,” Urueña says. “However, even though the members believe the ICO is a very relevant organisation, they would like to see more concrete outcomes.”

As a result, Urueña and her team’s extensive review, which comprised broad desk study, a comprehensive multi-stakeholder consultation process and a comparison with other International Commodity Bodies based in London, examined a wide range of issues, challenges and opportunities facing the ICO and the broader coffee industry.

Marcela Uruena Gomez

The review identified a range of significant challenges facing the industry that fell under three broad categories – economic, environmental and social.
Some of the key economic issues identified were low productivity at farm level, the increasing cost of production, which is often brought into sharp relief by price volatility, and that fact that the coffee value chain can be long and complex, with a distribution of returns which is skewed toward downstream players. 

The review also noted that some of the key challenges facing the industry from a social perspective are the significant gender gap that still exists for access to land, credit, pesticides and fertiliser as well as extension services, and the fact that young people are less inclined to become coffee farmers due to low profitability and limited access to land.

On the environmental front the report identified climate change, an increasing prevalence in extreme weather events and growing scarcity of water as the key challenges.

While many, if not all, of these challenges are familiar to most people working in the coffee industry, Urueña says that the ICO can play a key role in addressing them due to its unique position as a meeting point for many of the industry’s decision makers.

“Along the value chain, I think there is agreement about what the big challenges are that are affecting the coffee industry, but the big issue is that the different stakeholders are trying to tackle those challenges in a very fragmented way and an organisation like the ICO that can work as a platform for holding high-level discussions can play a very useful role in bringing all stakeholders together so that they can reach an understanding of how we can tackle those challenges,” she tells GCR.

The review also assessed the ICO’s performance against the four key goals set out in the organisation’s Action Plan for 2007.
The first goal was for the ICO to serve as a forum for the development of policies and solutions to strengthen the global coffee sector.
Second, the ICO  was charged with enhancing transparency of the coffee market and enabling economic decisions to be taken on the basis of accurate and timely data.

The final two goals were encouraging the development of communications, public outreach and dissemination of knowledge on the world coffee economy 
and promoting a sustainable coffee sector.

Overall, the review found that the ICO had performed well against each of these goals, with achievements such as increasing its membership from 65 countries in 2011 to 77 today. This means that the membership of the ICO now accounts for 98 per cent of world coffee production and 83 per cent of world consumption. 

Other key achievements by the ICO in that time are the fact that it compiles and disseminates more than 20,000 statistical reports for the coffee industry each year, and that it has secured US$19 million in financing for three projects and completed 14 projects totaling 
US$39.7 million since February 2011. 

On the sustainability front, the ICO has facilitated global action on sustainability issues through its participation in Vision 2020, the global sustainability platform jointly developed with the Global Coffee Platform (formerly 4C Association and the Sustainable Coffee Programme of IDH).

Coffee forest

Furthermore, it has raised awareness regarding the impact of climate change on coffee growing by representing the coffee sector at the COP21 on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and contributing to the report entitled The impacts of climate change on coffee: trouble brewing produced by the Earth Institute of Columbia University for the Global Coffee Forum, an event co-hosted with Illycaffè and Lavazza.

As a result of the Review, Urueña and her team came up with three key recommendations.

These recommendations were that the ICO should focus on the following goals: Improving the collection, analysis, and dissemination of ICO statistics and analytics; increasing the quality, relevance and impact of the ICO as the forum and platform for private-public cooperation within/in the coffee sector, and positioning the ICO as the hub for the development of effective private-public partnerships for the implementation of coffee development projects and the promotion of coffee consumption.

In October of 2016, Urueña presented the Strategic Review, and its three key recommendations, to the 117th session of the International Coffee Council in London, where it was approved in full.

Urueña has now been tasked with developing a five-year action plan to achieve the three goals set out as the recommendations of the Review.
“This is just the beginning of our work, and it will be from here on in that our work will start to be really interesting,” she tells GCR.

As specified in the Review, the plan will be implemented through annual programs of activities and will be evaluated through use of key performance indicators based on those used in Vision 2020.

The Review also outlined some of the specific activities that are likely to find their way into the Action Plan.

On the data collection front, the Review recommended exploring the use of incentives for ICO members to submit timely and accurate data, with the data provided by members being complemented with additional information gathered with the support of specialised service providers. The Review also recommends that partnerships with academia and companies should be built to improve data analysis.

To foster the ICO’s role as a global forum, the Review recommended that different meeting formats including workshops and seminars should be developed, and that the ICO should consider a stronger presence in member countries as well as in London.

To reinvigorate the project function of the ICO, the Review suggested that the ICO Secretariat needs to develop a strategy for projects which defines the organisation’s role in the design, funding, execution, and evaluation of projects. Depending on the members’ expectations, the Review suggests that the

Secretariat may need to build capacity to engage effectively with donors, successfully bid for project funding, and better communicate results.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” Urueña says. “The ICO has been around since 1963 and organisations with the kind of history and structure the ICO has can be slow to change and adapt. The real challenge will be to focus on the tasks we have set for ourselves and ensure that we are tracking progress. That said, we are dedicated to this process and are confident that we will make a success of it.” GCR

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