World Coffee Producers Forum seeks solutions

As the popularity of coffee continues to grow around the world, so too does awareness of the many challenges facing the industry. A growing imbalance between supply and demand, an inequitable distribution of wealth along the supply chain and the increasingly apparent effects of climate change are all huge issues that loom, unresolved, over the industry. Questions as big as these can only be solved through the entire industry acting as one, which is why the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) is working with producers associations from Africa, Asia and Latin America, to bring together many of the industry’s major actors to jointly discuss, under a concept of co-responsibility of the chain, the issues, problems, and future challenges of coffee farming, with demand estimated to increase by 50 million bags, to more than 200 million, in the next 10 to 15 years.. The World Coffee Producers Forum will be held in Medellin, Colombia, from 10 to 12 July. The CEO of the FNC, Roberto Vélez, says that for real progress to be made in this area, the industry must recognise the fundamental role played by coffee farmers and value that role accordingly. “Coffee growers’ income – economic sustainability – is not sufficient, and it seems to be regarded less in spite of the apparent care for environmental and social sustainability worldwide,” Vélez tells Global Coffee Report. “The coffee chain value is inequitably distributed. In many cases, producers do not even cover their production cost. They are subject to instability of international, rather low, prices. We must care for economic sustainability of all the links of the chain, starting with producers. If this link is not sustainable, the whole chain won’t be sustainable. That is why we need to have a holistic approach to our challenges and view them from a global perspective. That is why Professor Jeffrey Sachs, a key leader in the design and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, will set a global tone for this dialogue in his opening speech.” In order to achieve a positive outcome for farmers, the World Coffee Producers Forum will assemble coffee farmers from around the world meet with industry and other actors of the chain to discuss issues that are important for the future of coffee farming and to seek joint solutions. Producers will come from the Americas – Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua; Asia – Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and China; and Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Angola, and Togo. They will be joined by importers, exporters, buyers, roasters, traders, agents of development, and consumers. This is the first time an event will be organised with the express purpose of bringing together actors from such a broad spectrum of the industry with express purpose of addressing the challenges it faces. The event itself will be structured in a way to facilitate and foment meaningful discussion at every juncture, with a heavy emphasis on panel discussions and roundtable forums across the three days. Over the course of the event, senior representatives of many of the industry’s leading producer organisations, trade bodies and coffee companies will all present their views on the challenges facing the industry. Vélez says that the challenges at origin are considerable. “On average, coffee productivity is low worldwide, public education is losing ground, drinking water is increasingly scarce, many socio-economic indicators, including income and wealth gaps, have been deteriorating in many countries, according to different experts,” he says. “Non-government organisations lack enough resources to invest in productivity, there is not an industry productivity fund, producers endure economic instability, coffee production trails behind other activities … There are big challenges for human wellbeing, starting with producers.”
In addition to this, the changing climate is putting more and more pressure on coffee producers, particularly those growing Arabica, with modelling showing that climatic changes will significantly alter and disrupt the map of coffee growing regions. Vélez says that most people who are not seeing this problem develop at farm level have a limited appreciation of just how serious it is. “From a general point of view, for most people unaware of the problem’s magnitude, climate change was rather out of the radar in the past,” he says. “However, in recent years, this issue has gained importance due to prediction models about climate behaviour and the disastrous effects they warn about. Now it’s more common to take this topic into account when talking about agriculture, especially about the potential effects on productivity, water supply, and new pests. This issue needs to set new strategies for agricultural production systems.” He adds this awareness must be followed up by real actions. “We must ask ourselves what is the capacity of coffee farming to meet the increasing volume demand depending on climate variability?” Vélez says. “What mitigation mechanisms could be adopted collectively to keep pace with the demanded volumes, and who should pay for all this?” While an awareness of the need to focus on the sustainability of coffee production – whether that be economic, social or environmental – has been growing in the coffee world, Vélez says that the measures adopted to date, such as certification of certain production and trade practices, are still not enough to save the industry. “Currently the world coffee market shows a high concentration of coffee commercialisation and industrialisation that impact income distribution,” he says. “Producers face different vulnerability factors related to volatility of prices, climate change, limited socio-economic conditions, and labour informality.” Vélez says that certification programs involve high costs for producers and their market is saturated, limiting the effects expected by producers in terms of better income or less uncertainty. “There are risk factors that are not solved by certification programs and seriously threaten the future of coffee farming, such as climate change; facing them requires an active involvement of all actors of the coffee value chain,” he says. Bringing all of these actors together under the one roof is the first step, Vélez says, in understanding the scope of the challenges ahead and, hopefully, working together to find solutions. “Among expected results, the forum aims to build an accurate diagnosis of the main challenges of the coffee value chain and propose collective actions to achieve future sustainability for the benefit of the whole chain, starting with producers.” GCR

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