Solidaridad takes on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge

During the recent UN climate negotiations in Paris, Conservation International (CI) announced the launch of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge — a call to action to make coffee the first sustainable agricultural product in the world. The announcement comes as ministers gather to write a new climate agreement and as momentum builds for businesses to take direct action to combat climate change.

The Sustainable Coffee Challenge (SCC) aims to transform coffee production, moving specialty and mainstream producers toward sustainability. It will convene industry, conservation and agricultural development partners to develop a common framework for sustainability in the coffee sector. Over the next 100 days, CI will formalize engagement with partners, including Solidaridad, while developing a plan to drive the industry toward total sustainability. The initial plan of action will be unveiled to coincide with the 4th World Coffee Conference next March in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Increasing demand for sustainable coffee

Currently, nearly half of the world's coffee is being produced according to a sustainability standard, a figure that does not yet account for a number of recent significant investments made by the sector to support farmers in their transition to more sustainable practices. Yet only 12% was sold as sustainable coffee in the market. The Sustainable Coffee Challenge will work to strengthen demand for sustainably produced coffee and better account for progress made within the sector.

"Solidaridad considers the Sustainable Coffee Challenge to be a great opportunity to make coffee supply chains more future proof by connecting global commitment with regional collaboration,” said Joel Brounen, Solidaridad’s international programme coordinator for the coffee sector. “We are committed to facilitating and implementing new initiatives with other partners in the Sustainable Coffee Challenge that will improve the business case for sustainable farming in producing countries."

Industry giants join the challenge

The challenge is being launched with key partners including Starbucks Coffee Company, Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative, 4C Association, Allegro Coffee Company, Ceres, Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA), Counter Culture Coffee, ECOM Agroindustrial Corp. Ltd., Fairtrade America, Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST), Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS), Keurig Green Mountain Inc., Lutheran World Relief, Pelican Rouge Coffee Roasters B.V., S&D Coffee & Tea, Solidaridad and SustainAbility.

“As one of the founding partners of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, Solidaridad will support the challenge with expertise and knowledge gained directly from coffee producing countries. In particular, we will play a facilitating role between this international initiative and national platforms in Latin America, such as the Sustainable Trade Platform in Colombia,” Brounen said.

Big business has a role to play in climate change

The Sustainable Coffee Challenge comes at a time when nearly every major coffee-producing region of the world is feeling the impacts of climate change. Even as consumer demand increases — people drink 600 billion cups of coffee every year, and the coffee industry is a US$ 22 billion business — warming temperatures, drought and changing weather patterns are affecting coffee production.

Solidaridad is convinced that the SCC can play an important role to increase demand for sustainable coffee and close the gap between production of certified or verified coffee and sales of certified coffee in key markets like the US and Europe. Also, this initiative can contribute to better reporting on sustainability efforts around the globe. — Joel Brounen, International Programme Coordinator, Coffee

Results from recent studies concerning the coffee sector indiacte a significant need for more public and the private sector investments in adaptation strategies for addressing the effects of climate change and that will enable the industry to access a reliable supply of green coffee.  With the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers at stake, this is also plea for governments to play a vital role at the local level. In this regard, Solidaridad has already implemented a successful model with local partners in Colombia, Peru and Mexico to increase productivity, while lowering the carbon footprint of coffee farming. Lessons from this programme can be shared with members of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge.