Education is by no means a new concept to the coffee industry, but in recent years there has been a renewed focus on developing skills and knowledge across the supply chain.
Despite this, accessibility remains a challenge for education in the global coffee supply chain. Social, economic, and geographical barriers can impede stakeholders at all stages of the coffee supply chain and make it more difficult to access education.
With millions of people around the world deriving their livelihoods from coffee, bridging this gap in education is understandably a growing priority for the sector. To find out more about how this might be achieved, I spoke to three coffee education professionals.
You may also like our article on online education in the coffee sector.
How has coffee education evolved over time?
Tim Heinze is the Coffee Education Manager for Sucafina. He explains how educational content in the sector has developed over time.
“Coffee education has evolved exponentially over the last 10 years, and professionalisation is increasingly a priority,” he says.
To this end, Tim has been leading the efforts to bring coffee education to more people through the creation of The Center: an online learning community focused on providing high-quality, relevant, and accessible education to the global coffee industry.
Collin Bay is the owner of First Crack Coffee: a co-roasting facility with several locations in the US.
“Over the last decade, coffee education has changed,” he tells me. “We have filled in many knowledge gaps and provided legitimacy to what is now considered ‘the science of coffee’.”
However, while this greater level of technical detail can help drive innovation and quality, access is difficult for many in the supply chain.
“Academic research and new scientific findings are plentiful, but often this information is unable to reach those who need it the most,” Tim explains. “One of the visions of The Center is taking this information and making it more accessible to those who are in need of it to ensure a significant impact.”
The surge in online coffee education
In more recent years, coffee education has started to shift to digital platforms as e-learning has become more popular around the world.
While in-person classes remain popular to this day, the push for online educational content has been clear. However, while online was known for its flexibility and accessibility before the pandemic, Covid-19 did mark a huge seachange.
It’s estimated that in early 2020, over 1 billion students were forced to learn from home as universities and educational institutions closed their doors around the world. This led to a shift in educational styles and environments, causing both educators and students to adapt to new methods of learning.
Furthermore, with more than half of the world’s population now having active internet access, online education can even be a way of improving accessibility.
“Technology has evolved in the last decade, allowing more and more access to isolated producers and communities across the world,” Tim says.
This means that previously underserved coffee communities are now able to access an ever-growing range of online educational content.
Tim explains that The Center has sought to leverage this unprecedented and widespread change in access to bring flexible educational content to more people. As such, the platform offers many online, on-demand courses in multiple languages.
“We started the current plan for The Center about two years ago, but it’s important to note that the idea comes from Sucafina’s company ethos,” Tim says. “Education and knowledge sharing are central to Sucafina’s vision and company values, so it’s been a long time coming.
“We want to make our offerings as accessible as possible. Online courses are a huge part of this, although we’ll also be offering in-person courses.”
Where are the gaps in education across the sector & why do we need to resolve them?
Increasing the accessibility of education across the coffee supply chain is essential, but to start, we must understand where the gaps are and why they exist.
Collin tells me: “Accessing coffee knowledge used to be expensive, which boxed a lot of people out.”
Considering this economic barrier, it’s then logical that educational access for smallholder farmers has historically been more restricted. However, bridging this educational gap between the producing and consuming ends of the supply chain only serves to strengthen the industry as a whole.
Eddy Nkanagu is the Managing Director for Greenco Burundi. He tells me about some of the main problems caused by a lack of coffee education for farmers and their communities.
“We have noticed an exodus of rural populations, where today’s youth want to live in cities or urban areas,” he tells me. “Education for youth is geared more towards office and administrative jobs in Burundi, rather than agriculture.”
Statistics from the International Coffee Organisation estimate that the average age of an African coffee farmer is 60, indicating a growing generational gap in coffee farming. With Africa’s population aged between 15 and 35 set to double by 2045, a continued lack of interest from younger generations in coffee farming could be a real issue.
“In addition to that, the drop in coffee prices means that youth witness their elders (typically their parents) receive less money,” Eddy adds. “This makes the job seem unattractive.”
However, Tim notes that it’s not just coffee production where educational gaps exist.
Tim says: “The Center – through its connection to Sucafina – holds a unique position at the centre of the supply chain, reaching its arms across to producers and consumers alike.
“It focuses on a much wider range of supply chain levels and covers the entirety of the coffee sector, from issues in production and processing, through to logistics and then on to roasting and consumption.
“By holding ourselves to an elevated level of quality yet expanding on accessibility, we believe we are bridging equity gaps.”
Going forward, addressing these gaps will be integral to securing the sustainable future of the coffee industry. As production levels drop and global demand increases, safeguarding the longevity of the coffee sector is becoming increasingly important.
Developing flexible & accessible educational content
So, it’s clear that there are gaps all across the coffee industry as far as educational content is concerned. But how can these be addressed?
“If we are serious about wanting a sustainable industry, we will only get there by creating an efficient, inclusive value chain,” Collin says.
To improve inclusivity and accessibility, there are a few areas that can be addressed. One of the most obvious is the language barrier. Tim explains that this is why The Center publishes almost all of its content in multiple languages.
“Sucafina is currently in the process of translating the agrometeorology course into Spanish and Portuguese,” he says. “From the beginning, The Center planned to generate original content in a range of languages, from Bahasa to Mandarin.
“We hope to build a content and course catalogue that serves everyone equally.”
However, alongside this there is also the issue of flexibility and cost. Historically, many of the universities in Latin America which provide quality agricultural and agronomic education do so on fixed courses that take a number of years to complete.
Today, shorter on-demand courses (often offered through the internet) are becoming more prominent. As well as being easier to fit around a full-time job, these are also often less costly than an entire degree or multiple-year diploma.
Tim notes that The Center primarily focuses on courses designed for producers – but does also work to bridge the educational divide between production and consumption.
“We put particular emphasis on origin and supply chain topics, which have been under-addressed in other programmes,” he says. “However, we have a whole host of topics that are crucial for building a business for roasters and other stakeholders.
“These include market levels, sample roasting, understanding of weather and logistics, and so on.”
How do we make education more accessible?
In order for coffee education to be as accessible as possible, Eddy suggests taking a long-term view and focusing on the younger generations. Otherwise, accessibility will continue to be an issue in the future.
“Younger people want there to be more diverse roles in the coffee industry, they want to see different perspectives for growth,” he says. “[In coffee production, for instance, it’s important for them to first build their knowledge], and focus on areas such as coffee quality, harvesting, and cupping.
“Young people can’t just guess how to best approach producing coffee, but people with experience have done it before them,” he adds. “So, to make knowledge shareable and accessible, it’s key to have a place like The Center as a platform for guidance and expertise.”
However, improving outcomes for people across the coffee sector requires more than just providing incentives and education to younger generations. It also requires actions to be taken at an individual level to improve market access.
Collin tells me that this is why First Crack Coffee operates several co-roasting facilities, which allows those with little to no roasting experience to develop their skills and knowledge.
Shared roasting facilities can help to break down entry barriers into the industry, as investing in equipment and space can be too expensive for many.
“We provide free and affordable education, with access to what would otherwise be expensive equipment,” Collin says. “This has allowed marginalised members of the value chain to grow their skills and small businesses to leverage benefits of scale otherwise not accessible.”
Ultimately, bridging the education gap is about providing resources for everyone in the industry – all along the supply chain.
“Accessible education is the first step toward a more inclusive and innovative coffee industry,” Tim says. “Educational opportunities are about engaging people with new knowledge and new information to strengthen their ability to confront challenges in the industry.”
Coffee education has come a long way over the last ten years, but there is still more to do if we are to achieve an educationally equitable coffee supply chain.
By making coffee education more accessible, we can strengthen skills and improve knowledge across the board, and empower the industry as a whole.
Collin concludes: “By democratising and demystifying coffee education through high-quality, accessible educational platforms, such as The Center, are able to give individuals more opportunities to advance in their careers.”
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on developing coffee education programmes.
Perfect Daily Grind
Please note: Sucafina is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.
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