Market Reports

World Coffee Research CEO Jennifer “Vern” Long calls for collaboration in 2021

Jennifer Vern Long

While 2020 proved no crystal ball is accurate, GCR invited industry leaders to share their hopes, ambitions, and predictions for 2021, in what is likely to be a defining year for the international coffee market.

COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of global supply chains and coffee is no exception. In genetics, in agricultural systems, and in global economics alike, diversity confers resilience. Currently, coffee farmers and agricultural systems have extremely little resilience potential to weather continued cumulative small crises, let alone regional or global catastrophes like a global pandemic, widespread plant disease epidemics, or multi-year droughts.

Unfortunately, coffee isn’t keeping up with agricultural growth in most producing countries. In many, agriculture is a major driver of overall economic growth, but coffee is falling behind. Many key origin countries are not investing in coffee compared with other crops, indicating coffee producers could be better off switching to other kinds of farming or exiting coffee altogether. This should be a clear warning signal to businesses that rely on coffee. On a brighter note, many of these same countries do have the basic systems in place to enable coffee agricultural growth with right-sized investments.

As economist Jeffrey Sachs points out in The Earth Institute Coffee Report, under a business-as-usual pathway, origin production consolidation is likely to continue. This will result in less variety in origins, tastes, and quality, with a potential dampening effect on demand, lost smallholder knowledge, and heightened supply risks of large-scale disruptions and greater price volatility.

Which origins will successfully navigate these (sometimes literal) storms? Which farmers in those origins? What will the consequences be for coffee roasters and drinkers in terms of flavour, sustainability, and business? 

There is little doubt that coffee agricultural research and development, and where and how it is applied, will influence the outcomes. Innovations that address the challenges faced by coffee agriculture will, to a significant degree, determine the course of coffee production over the next five decades. Agricultural research remains one of the most important tools the global community has to solve shared challenges. 

These challenges are far bigger than any one origin or any one company and pre- competitive, collaborative engagement is key to tackling these big questions. One example is the way companies have stepped forward together via WCR to grapple with these existential questions, which have stakes for the entire industry. This work will truly help achieve impacts at a global scale.

Written by Jennifer “Vern” Long, Chief Executive Officer of World Coffee Research.

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