We all know that 2020 has been an eventful year for the coffee industry. Logistical issues and widespread café closures – as a result of Covid-19 – have taken their toll. But throughout the difficulties the supply chain has faced, stakeholders across the sector have worked together to innovate and respond to these difficulties and challenges.
Discussion across the industry has highlighted the importance of collaboration, and looked at how partners and stakeholders can work together to overcome these obstacles. To learn more about the role collaboration has to play moving forward, I attended the “Virtual Coffee Dialogues” webinar series.
This ongoing series of online conferences focuses on the impact of the pandemic, how organisations are innovating to move forward, and what the future holds for coffee production in Latin American countries. Read on to learn more.
Lee este artículo en español Colaboración en la Cadena de Suministro Del Café
Communication And Knowledge Build Resilience
Collaboration is at the top of the agenda for many major stakeholders in the coffee sector. Mariela Wismann, Director of Coffee Programs for Rikolto Latin America, stresses that constructive dialogues are incredibly important for every actor in the coffee supply chain. She says that they help to build transparency and understanding, and to share knowledge, but there is sometimes a lack of communication and co-operation.
“It has an impact on decisions,” she tells me. “For producers, for example, explaining why they process in a certain way, how they harvest, and the difficulties they face with shipping coffees can support buyers and importers.”
Mariela explains that this was part of the reason that a number of organisations, including Rikolto, organised the webinars. The intention, she tells me, is to jointly develop new strategies for the coffee sector.
She adds that in a sector where regional data is scarce, virtual events will be an important part of building knowledge and a sense of community going forward. “Including the producers is important; we need to recognise their expectations and build resilience with those who grow coffee as livelihood.”
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The Impact Of Covid-19 On The Supply Chain In Latin America
There has been a lot of discussion about how Covid-19 has affected the consumer end of the supply chain through café closures and decreased sales.
However, there has been significantly less discussion about the impact the coronavirus has had in producing countries. Prior to the pandemic, many producers were already dealing with the long-term consequences of previous crises (including the coffee leaf rust epidemic and the low price crisis of 2014, among others).
In the Virtual Coffee Dialogues series, Juan Humberto Davila of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia emphasised that by working together, the FNC and the Colombian government were able to clearly communicate new measures to coffee producers. He added that they achieved this by using characters and symbols that were already familiar to many producers, such as Juan Valdez and Professor Yarumo.
In many cases, collaboration between national governments and other organisations has made a quick response to Covid-19 possible. Andrés Montenegro is the Program Director of Verité’s COFFEE Project. He noted that the stronger the organisations involved are, the faster and more effective the response can be.
“[Organisations] are moving fast to identify biosecurity protocols that can be effectively disseminated [among coffee producers],” Andrés said. “They are also bringing together local and regional governments, and promoting effective mitigation measures as well as providing support services.”
And while many organisations are focused on mitigating the impact of the pandemic, others are using it as an opportunity to launch new projects and initiatives. Víctor Sarabia represents Sierra y Selva Exportadora, a public sector programme that leads Procafé, a Peruvian working group organised by the public and private sector. He said that the pandemic had provided the coffee sector with the opportunity to unite.
“[For example, we created] an integrated virtual platform that supports national and regional coffee events organised throughout the second half of 2020,” he said.
Innovations In The Latin American Coffee Sector
In recent years, there has been worldwide acknowledgement of how the coffee sector is innovating in Latin America.
One of the most popular topics of discussion has been a drive to increase internal coffee consumption in producing countries. By increasing internal coffee consumption, producing countries generate a healthy base of coffee drinkers and create more options and security for producers.
Vera Espíndola, part of the board of directors of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), has been vocal on the topic of increasing internal consumption. She mentioned a number of examples during the Virtual Dialogues, including Brazil’s coffee in schools programme, Mexico promoting coffee through domestic tourism, and the FNC in Colombia positioning coffee as a drink for “every moment of the day”.
On the topic of innovation, Vera noted that it didn’t have to be linked to new technology or the work of a single organisation. “There’s a mindset we need to change,” she said. “We think that innovation should be led by an institution [like the government], but in more than one case, innovations in coffee are being carried out in unison.”
Another point on innovation came from Dutch trading platform Beyco, who have been uniting coffee producers and buyers with the use of blockchain technology. Demand for the platform has increased during Covid-19 as it has helped to bring people together when they have been unable to travel. The platform has a focus on transparency and traceability, and its detailed data recording supports stakeholders to create long-term relationships.
Finally, Vinicio Dávila Castillo, the President of Anecafe, spoke about how Ecuador has promoted itself as an origin. Vinicio said that one of the major innovations in Ecuadorian coffee over the last decade was the launch of Taza Dorada, a national competition and auction platform.
This event, promoted by the private sector, provided Ecuadorian producers with the ability to sell their lots at competitive prices. Over the course of several editions, participants have improved the quality of their coffee and used it as a gateway to a number of international events with the support of the government. Much like the Cup of Excellence, this competition now faces the challenge of “going virtual” in these unusual times.
Driving The Coffee Sector Forward Together
Sustainability has been an important topic in the coffee supply chain for decades. Discussions about it cover everything from the environment and climate change through to how and when producers are paid for their crop. However, what role does collaboration have to play in a sustainable future for the coffee sector?
In the Virtual Dialogues, Lily Pacas of the Salvadoran Coffee Council noted the key role of governmental and public sector bodies. She said that they provided a framework to implement important policies and regulate the relationships between different actors in the supply chain.
Similarly, Lorenzo Castillo, General Manager at the National Coffee Board of Peru, stated the importance of having strong national coffee institutions. He said that these support and strengthen producers, as well as internal coffee growers’ organisations and co-operatives.
Ric Rhinehart, former CEO and Executive Director of the SCA, said that the future success of the coffee sector will be linked to how well producers co-operate with each other, instead of competing against each other.
Joao Mattos of CLAC-Fair Trade noted that organic coffee production could be a way towards financial and environmental sustainability. However, for continued success in the future, he said that young people and women must be empowered to hold higher-level positions.
Finally, Gelkha Buitrago of the Global Coffee Platform discussed a collective action plan that has delivered positive impact in Brazil and Vietnam. This model prioritised establishing a “national sustainability curriculum”, and providing measures to analyse and review its results.
The first three sessions of the Virtual Coffee Dialogues were held in August and September. They were organised by Rikolto Latin America, PROMECAFÉ, Cospe, ProAmazonía, and Jacobs Douwe Egberts to discuss collaboration across the supply chain.
Mariela shares some of the key conclusions from these first three webinars:
- The coffee sector needs to talk about sustainability. We need to share initiatives so they can be discussed, validated, and justified. Only then we will discover what sustainability means and what we need to move towards it.
- The coffee sector is resilient. However, we need to make sure that its resilience protects all actors in the supply chain, with a particular focus on the producer.
- The effects of Covid-19 are more severe in countries with fewer organisations that support the supply chain. In some countries, adjustments or new organisations may be necessary.
- Moving forward together doesn’t mean leaving anything behind, but rather just defining a basic, shared agenda. Among these should be promoting innovation, driving changes in production, mitigating the impact of climate change, and including young people and women in a more inclusive coffee sector.
- Collaboration has a huge role to play in overcoming challenges such as Covid-19. There is no innovation without discussion, and this helps the sector find a way forward together.
The first step is talking about the issues that matter in the coffee industry. By conducting the right discussions, we can improve understanding, foster collaboration, improve lives for producers around the world, and maximise the potential of the coffee sector.
Two more Virtual Coffee Dialogues will be held in October, with the first on International Coffee Day (October 1). Guests will include Lavazza, the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, Lutheran World Relief, Conacafe, and UNDP, among others.
Enjoyed this? Then read Covid-19: What Farmers Want You To Know
Photo credits: Rikolto Latin America
Perfect Daily Grind
Some quotes have been translated from Spanish.
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