Quality coffee can boost local economies and benefit farmers – here’s how


(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Guillaume Le Cunff, CEO, Nestlé Nespresso S.A.

  • Supporting the sale of high-quality coffees can help restore livelihoods in regions hit hard by conflict and climate change.
  • Training can be key in helping farmers maximize sustainable farming practices, and boost coffee quality and productivity.

Over the past decade, the value of the global coffee industry has almost doubled to $90 billion. More than 2 billion cups of coffee are currently consumed worldwide each day and the market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.32% between 2020 and 2024. Younger generations in particular, are driving demand for high-quality coffee, and willing to spend more money on unique and premium coffee experiences.

With global demand for coffee continuing to rise and consumers showing a thirst for coffee craftsmanship and new exquisite blends, this should be an ideal time to be a coffee farmer. However, entire communities around the world with rich histories of high-quality coffee are, in fact, struggling. Finding ways to support the growth and sale of high-quality coffees can help restore livelihoods and these regions’ economies.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum’s Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

Why coffee farming communities are struggling

Currently, around 25 million smallholder farmers produce 80% of the world’s coffee, while more than 125 million people depend on coffee for their livelihoods. But in many regions, coffee farming is threatened by a range of challenges.

In Zimbabwe, coffee production fell from 15,000 tons in the late 1980s to just 500 in 2017 due to decades of instability and economic shocks, which almost completely destroyed the country’s entire coffee industry. Aside from the collapse of the country’s national economy, there was also the knock-on effect of low yields of high quality coffee, leading to limited economic returns for farmers.

In regions of Uganda (the Rwenzori Mountains) and Colombia (Caquetá), two of the world’s largest coffee producing and exporting countries, coffee farming has reduced in recent years, impacted by climate change and conflict respectively. In the Rwenzori region, farmers collect 1.5 kilograms of coffee cherries per tree every year, below the national average of 2 kilograms and 5 kilograms in model farms, while in Caquetá, almost 50 years of conflict meant many farmers abandoned their lands and coffee almost disappeared from the region.

Furthermore, experts predict climate change could cut the land suitable for Arabica coffee production in half by 2050, eradicating both coffee and livelihoods.

New training

Sector revival is possible, through collaborative support from governments, NGOs, coffee brands and consumers. Nespresso’s Reviving Origins program demonstrates how coffee can restore local economies that face hardship. Through training and technical assistance delivered by Nespresso and its partners on the ground – including young agribusiness, Agri Evolve in Uganda; the Colombian National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) in Colombia; and a global non-profit organization TechnoServe in Zimbabwe – this support has helped farmers across the world to embed sustainable farming practices, and boost coffee quality and productivity.

A farmer member of the AAA Academy, a fair trade program set up by Nespresso to revive coffee cultivation in Zimbabwe, is sorting coffee beans in a farm in the Honde Valley in eastern Zimbabwe, near the border with Mozambique, June 20, 2018.
A farmer member of the Nespresso AAA Academy sorting coffee beans in the Honde Valley in eastern Zimbabwe.
Image: Nespresso

In these three regions alone, Nespresso is working with more than 3,500 farmers. The Reviving Origins program is an integral part of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, our sustainable sourcing model in coffee producing countries, which involves more than 110,000 farmers across the world.

Such efforts increase the possibility that high-quality coffee in these regions can become globally available. Training and education enable farmers to grow the amount of high-quality yield, which boosts income year-on-year and stimulates the local economy. As a result, farmers can attract premium prices for their coffee and enhance their quality of life. Importantly, this sort of support helps to expand the marketplace for quality coffees, creating long-term opportunities for sustained growth and success.

For coffee farmer Jesca Kangai from the Mutasa District of Zimbabwe, being part of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program means she can now send her five children to school and has been able to buy a cow and goats to help feed her family. Another farmer from the region, Zachariah Mukwinya, has plans to enlarge his homestead, improve his farm’s irrigation, and wants to buy a car.

Jesca Kagai, a 35years old farmer, is harvesting coffee cherries in her farm situated in the Honde Valley, eastern Zimbabwe, near the border with Mozambique, on June 19th, 2018. After being voted second best coffee producer in Mutasa district, and 5th in Manicaland province as a whole, she recently joined the AAA Academy, a fair trade program Nespresso sets up to revive coffee culture in Zimbabwe.
Jesca Kagai, a 35-year-old farmer, harvesting coffee cherries on her farm in the Honde Valley in eastern Zimbabwe.
Image: Nespresso

Such support is making a clear difference in other ways, too. Nespresso figures show that from 2018 to 2019, high quality coffee production increased by 9% in the Manicaland province of Zimbabwe and 10% in Caquetá, Colombia.

New solutions

In the Rwenzori, support has meant helping farmers to revive the quality potential of natural Arabica in the region, by reinventing the traditional and sustainable process of natural unwashed Arabica known as DRUGAR (Dried Uganda Arabica).

Traditionally, DRUGAR coffee has a reputation of being of lower quality, with farmers picking both ripe and unripe beans, which were then sold to intermediary buyers in the region. A lack of market infrastructure meant that farmers often had to sell their entire crop for a low price – and were unable to invest back into their smallholdings.

As part of the Reviving Origins program, Nespresso has worked with partners Agri Evolve, Kyagalanyi and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) in Uganda to implement solutions, such as the establishment of coffee stations, which offer enhanced drying and processing capacity to farmers, and the creation of a tree nursery to redistribute coffee and native tree seedlings to farmers. This helps farmers to increase the quality of their crop, enhance biodiversity, and mitigate soil erosion. With these stations in place, new supply chains in the Busongore North and Bukonzo East areas, could enabling coffee farms to increase coffee productivity and quality.

“By equipping farmers with today’s best agricultural practices and the right infrastructure, we can breathe new life into these industries and communities, fostering crucial economic development.”

—Guillaume Le Cunff, CEO, Nestlé Nespresso S.A.

The impact has already been significant, as Joseph Kirimbwa, a coffee farmer from the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda involved in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, explains: “After receiving training, I have changed the way I pick my coffee, meaning I get a better quality coffee and more money. This improved way of working my coffee crop means I was able to earn enough money to start building my house.”

Joseph Kirimbwa, a 33 years old farmer member of the Nespresso AAA program to improve the yield and quality of coffee produced in the Rwenzori region of western Uganda, is harvesting coffee cherries in his coffee plantation in Mbata, a small village north of Rwenzori on March 28th, 2019.
Joseph Kirimbwa, a 33-year-old farmer member of the Nespresso AAA program, is harvesting coffee cherries in his coffee plantation in Mbata in western Uganda.
Image: Nespresso

The way forward

While major change to infrastructure or long-established practices is never easy or straightforward, it is clear how investment into reviving coffee industries can help struggling regions to not only face today’s challenges, but also grow in the future.

Collectively, we can and should help vulnerable communities to unlock the enormous potential of coffee – restoring local economies and sustainable livelihoods, while preserving the future of some of the world’s rarest blends. For example Nespresso, through our Reviving Origins program, is investing CHF10M over five years (2019-2023) to help make a difference.

But more can be done, and we are always exploring new countries and coffee producing regions that could benefit from both Nespresso support, and the help of our expert partners on the ground. By equipping farmers with today’s best agricultural practices and the right infrastructure, we can breathe new life into these industries and communities, fostering crucial economic development.

Many of us can’t imagine starting our day without a cup of coffee, but if we care about the future of coffee, and the people who produce it, we must help farmers to tap into new opportunities, ride the new wave and bring lasting stability to their communities.

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