Industry unites behind sustainability push at World Coffee Producers Forum

Coffee producing countries have gathered to discuss the most pressing issues facing their industry at the inaugural World Coffee Producers Forum in Medellin, Colombia which ran from 10 to 12 July. The event urged the coffee community to work collectively towards the sustainability of producers. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was among the players who participated in the discussion. “None of this makes sense if coffee growing is not a profitable activity for all actors of the chain. This includes, obviously, coffee producers. There is no chain if there is no raw material,” he said. Santos also highlighted that by progressively being concentrated in a smaller number of players, the global coffee market has become more vulnerable. Because of the chain's interconnectedness, if one actor is in trouble, all other actors are affected.  Santos noted that coffee growers' access to markets – particularly small-scale growers – has grown increasingly disadvantageous. He said the fact that they are “forced to negotiate in unequal conditions should encourage us to have a realistic discussion on how to compensate these asymmetries”. He then stressed that the enthusiasm surrounding the World Coffee Producers Forum reveals the coffee community's growing concerns around coffee chain sustainability. “We face great challenges, addressing them wont be easy. But if we work together, coffee we will continue to be a driver of development and equity in our societies,” Santos said. Carlos Alberto Cardona, President of the Coffee Growers Steering Committee, said that the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) is at the service of other producing countries to address common challenges.
“We can’t build our future without supporting others,” Cardona said. As proof of the many similarities that exist among coffee producing countries, Costa Rica's Presiden, Luis Guillermo Solís, spoke about coffee as a driving force behind rural development. He urged attendees and society at large to understand the importance of guaranteeing the sustainability of the entire supply chain, starting by the wellbeing of producers. “Lets distribute wealth, not poverty,” Solís said. “The world's 25 million coffee producing families are demanding governments and markets to pay more attention to their needs. We are not asking for subsidies or charity, we are asking for support. The sector's sustainability is a collective responsibility.” Juan Orlando Hernández, President of Honduras, encouraged coffee producing countries to create a common front to protect their interests. Rather than challenging the International Coffee Organisation (ICO), the spirit of the initiative is to complement and articulate efforts in order to advance fair conditions for coffee growers. Óscar Ortiz, Vice President of El Salvador, acknowledged the magnitude of the first World Coffee Producers Forum, noting that it started a conversation around the mechanisms needed by the coffee community to build sustained and collective efforts. Ortiz recogised that coffee has helped mitigate issues including migration and poverty. He talked about El Salvador's national pact to recover coffee production and stressed the importance of working together to overcome the sustainability challenges faced by producers. José Sette, Executive Director of the ICO, presented the different initiatives that the organisation has been evaluating, based on a new action plan and more precise statistics, in order to foster the sustainability of producers. He stated that ICO members understand the need to contribute to the coffee chain's sustainable development, starting with the livelihoods of small-scale producers. José acknowledged that many sustainability initiatives have focused on social and environmental pillars, disregarding the economic dimension of sustainability.

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