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The ICO explains why the youth need coffee

International Coffee Organization

The International Coffee Organization’s Head of Operations, Gerardo Patacconi, on why the youth need coffee, and coffee needs the youth.

Governance, resilience and fragility of Global Value Chains (GCV) became a central theme for economists, industries, and governments throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Also of interest was its impact on different components of the society with lower income people, and countries badly affected with youth unemployment and reduced income, which was greater than among the adult population. The coffee sector proved to be rather flexible and resilient, and capable to adapt itself on how to produce, trade, transform, and consume coffee. However, employment and the income of young people engaged in the coffee sector, from producers to baristas, were also significantly affected by the pandemic. This created an additional stress to other youth-related and coffee-specific issues such as growing intergenerational gap, ageing coffee farmers, uneven access to land and resources, migration from rural coffee areas to cities and abroad, as well fragmentation of coffee farms due to inheritance.

Therefore, from 2021-22 International Coffee Organization (ICO) Members decided to address the subject of “youth in coffee”, by reviewing trends, identifying best practices, understanding challenges and opportunities, providing policy recommendations, and advocating for a greater role for young people in the whole coffee GVC.

The ICO catalysed the world’s attention on the ‘Next-Gen’ of coffee with the holding of two high-level events: a coffee and youth day during the annual meeting of the Youth 20, the engagement group of the G20 Summit during the Italian Presidency, and the opening the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) World Food Forum on the challenges and opportunities of the coffee sector for millions of young people, as employees, entrepreneurs and consumers.

The Germany Ministry of Development through its development Agency, GIZ, supported the 2021 Coffee Development Report (CDR2021), ‘The Future of Coffee: Investing in the youth for a resilient and sustainable coffee sector’. The report was based on important work and inputs by a team

of academia and researchers from the Michigan State University (MSU), led by Dr Felix Kwame Yeboah, and assisted by Dr Leonidas Murembya and Dr Deepa Thiagarajan. A series of surveys and interviews with all coffee stakeholders and youth enabled the collection and analysis of more than 100 ‘best practices to engage youths in coffee’. It was divided by promoters including governments, the coffee industry, non-government organisations and civil society, who provided a wealth of information to the coffee sector.

With regards to the coffee sector, people between ages 15 and 34 years represent about a third of the 4.9 billion people living in coffee producing countries (CPCs), and at least half of the labour force depending on the country’s demographic structure. Therefore, the future of coffee will depend on their labour, innovation, advocacy, lifestyle, and consumption patterns.

However, young people are more likely than adults to be underemployed and/or engage in vulnerable employment. Agriculture still remains a dominant source of employment for young people in CPCs in the global south, and growingly, youth employment is moving to the service sector, primary in commerce and distribution, therefore beyond wage, family and self-employment and less in activities related to coffee production. There is, in fact, a generalised youth disinterest in agriculture that more broadly has kept many young people out of coffee production. Moreover, young people face a lack of resources and skills. They are often not given the chances they deserve to contribute to coffee-related activities due to cultural and economic constrains ranging from land ownership and decision-making systems to lack of collateral and access to formal financing sources.

In the survey, more than 100 projects were reviewed and classified by type (private sector, public sector, and civil society) and by services provided (skills development and training, coffee attractiveness, and access to productive assets, inputs, and markets). Lessons learnt from the review of youth-focused projects and programs include that most of them target coffee production and less other opportunities along the coffee global value chain (C-GVC). There is also a lack of coordination across projects and “promoters” and decisions are often not based only on identified needs and opportunities, but are influenced by other factors such as political or strategic decisions by buyers, government, development partners, and NGOs with a heavy emphasis on technical skills training.

The next generations can play a crucial role at each step of the C-GVC, as producers or consumers, employers (coffeepreneurs) or workers, or agents of change or technology users. The youth will be able to drive true rural and industrial transformation and consumption patterns towards sustainability and fairness. They will also aim to overcome the risk due to aging population of growers, especially for the smaller and less productive CPCs, matching climate change challenges and volatility between demand/supply and prices, that if not addressed, may jeopardise the future of coffee productions and origins’ differentiation.

The combined forces of rapid population growth, slower expansion of gainful employment, and limited opportunities for skills development have consigned many young people in CPCs to unemployment and/or underemployment in low productive activities. Despite declining youth involvement in agriculture, agriculture remains an important employer of young people in coffee producing countries.

Coffee growing is still a low-paid and labour-intensive activity that requires hard manual work such as picking, sorting, pruning, weeding, spraying, fertilising, and transporting products. As a result, its attractiveness is limited in many CPCs: many young people tend to leave rural areas to migrate to cities or to neighbouring or industrialised countries in search of more lucrative and rewarding opportunities. This migration leaves behind ageing farmers who are poorly suited to sustain future agricultural production, including that of coffee. In the downstream part of the supply chain, engaging youth depends of attracting young talent and workforce in all related activities from manufacturing to retailing to consumption.

Challenges and opportunities of engagement

A central theme of the ICO CDR2021 is that a thriving and sustainable coffee sector is critical for securing youth livelihoods, especially in CPCs, but a sustainable and resilient coffee sector requires a greater engagement of youth. Simply put, youth need coffee and coffee needs youth.

The ICO CDR includes policy recommendations and investment options to ICO exporting and i mporting members, industry and development partners engaged with the ICO to transform them into action. They include:

Young people represent the present and future of coffee production

With aging populations, it is important to build the capacity of the future generation of coffee farmers and of all those that potentially would be able to engage with the coffee sector. As coffee demands continues to increase, young people can have a catalysing role in ensuring continuity in the supply of coffee. The intergenerational transfer of knowledge is key to ensuring said continuity and can be facilitated through the increased involvement of young women and men, through mentoring and coaching programs.

Engaging young people in the C-GVC contributes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

When the next-gen take over the economic and political space in the next years (see breakout on left) it would be in a position to influence decisions and foster realisation of the 2030 Development Agenda. Beyond this, the next-gen could influence how young people contribute to meeting the SDGs with the aim to increase rural youth’s income (SDG1), and induce better access to food, health, and education (SDG2). Moreover, youth can definitely improve gender equity (SDG5), realise a stronger commitment towards the development of varieties that are resistant to climate change and have minimal impact on the environment (SDG13), and foster innovation and industrialisation/value addition (SDG9).

Enabling Youth to a living and prosperous income and access to employment would reduce insecurities and inequalities (SDG16). Young engagement in the coffee sector would also foster more effective public and private sector partnerships, and operations and fight the green-washing of the past (SDG17).

The demography of many coffee producing countries is conducive to a large involvement of young people in coffee value chains

One third of the 4.9 billion people who reside in CPCs are between the ages of 15 and 34 years old, providing a significant pool of coffee producers and consumers. Africa is notably the regions where there is the largest potential, as 70 per cent of young people in coffee producing countries reside in Africa. However, this resource needs to nurtured, capacitated, trained and equipped with the tools, resources and decision-making space necessary to positively participate in global value chains.

Increased youth involvement in C-GVCs can provide important opportunities for income and employment

Young people participate less in the labour force but are disproportionately impacted by unemployment, underemployment, and vulnerable employment. Despite the declining shares of youth involvement in agriculture, agriculture remains an important employer of young people in coffee producing countries. The development of skills, the provision of land titles, the improved access to finance and the increased access to markets are clear opportunities in several nodes of the coffee global value chains.

There is a myriad of ways young people can be involved in the coffee global value chain

Given the continued growth in coffee demand, the farming sector is one of the key nodes of the C-GVC needing and increased youth involvement. With their innovative and entrepreneurial talent, they may realise innovative farming techniques, smart and regenerative agriculture, circularity and intercropping. In the industrial sector, there exists opportunities for young people to be involved with processing, coffee roasting, and cupping, among others. In the service sector, young people can be involved with the management of coffee producing facilities, quality control, farm extension services and trading, especially for specialty coffee and niche export markets, as well as in the retail sector, both domestically and abroad.

All together to support people in the C-GVC

The private sector, traders, roasters or retailers, as part of their responsible sourcing and sustainability plans, provides jobs and income opportunities, and growingly employ and train young people capacitating rural youth from farming to barista skills.

Governments provide enabling environments where an educated young population is encouraged and can thrive by tapping into their entrepreneurial skills and talent.

The international development community, both United Nations, development banks and bilateral agencies, support youth in coffee growing areas and foster engagement of youth in coffee production, trade, retail and disposal.

Many NGOs and civil society organisations are partnering with coffee buyers to enhance sustainable sourcing and expand youth engagement by ensuring a steady supply of future coffee producers, extension and environmental service providers, qualified baristas, and a customer base with knowledge of coffee production.

More efforts needed to capitalise on youth’s talents, innovative spirit, and ability to be agents of change

The youth must be included and actively participate in the policy dialogue and decision-making processes to ensure that youth-focused interventions are consistent with their interests and talents. Providing youths with easy access to knowledge, from technical, to business and soft skills, to productive resources, such as finance, digital technologies and markets would create income and jobs. It would also improve value distribution and foster value addition beyond the export of green beans.

Creating and implement policies to foster the engagement of the coffee Next-Gen in the C-GVC

To foster the integration of the new-generations in the sector and achieve a resilient, inclusive and sustainable coffee sector, key policy and related investment options to be considered by decision-makers, either public or private include:

(I)  Include youth in policy dialogue and decision-making processes

(II)  Upgrade the skills of youth in the whole C-GVC

(III)  Expand youth access to productive resources (land, finance, digital technologies)

(IV)  Promote value addition in CPCs to expand opportunities for youth engagement in C-GVC

(V)  Invest in actionable research, monitoring, evaluation and learning, and extension systems to make the coffee sector responsive to evolving needs of youth and emerging threats.

Coordinate and harmonisation of governments, private sectors, civil society and development partners action and engaging youth and their associations

Concerted efforts among all engaged parties is essential to identify needs and best practices and roll out and develop joint programs that can have higher impact on engaging young women and men in the whole coffee global value chain.

Special focus needs to be made on building women and youth capacity to be the advisors and agents of change capable to support their coffee sector to innovate and implement sustainability practices, standards and regulations, and foster access to profitable coffee markets.

What’s next

Young people are the positive force for development when provided with knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive. They are ready to build a better future for all, they have talents, innovative ideas, familiarity with digital technology, flexibility and strong commitment to sustainability and fairness. Providing resources and opportunities for the youth is therefore a must. Access to knowledge and finance and quality education and skills upgrading can transform and green the entire coffee sector, including coffee farming, processing, marketing, advertising, branding, distribution, and consumption. There is no alternative. We all need to “pass the baton…or the coffee cup” to them: Youth are the responsible and sustainable coffee producers and consumers of the future… and the future is already here.

The CDR 2021 is available to download. The CDR 2022 is under preparation and will be about the Circular Coffee Economy.

This article was first published in the November/December 2022 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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