Sustainability Award Recognizes Leadership and Innovation in the Coffee World

Maria Eutemia Maldonado Ocana shows a coffee leaf that has been affected by roya

by Rosemary Trent, Pueblo a Pueblo

For more than a decade, SCAA’s Sustainability Council has recognized individuals, businesses, and organizations that promote sustainability within the coffee world, selecting one each year to receive the prestigious Sustainability Award. This year’s panel received an unprecedented number of applicants representing projects that have demonstrated remarkable dedication to real and sustainable change. There are few things more rewarding or invigorating than identifying true innovation. This year’s finalists are proof that dynamic and comprehensive initiatives can, in fact, change the world.

Deciding on the winner of this year’s Sustainability Award was no easy task. The Sustainability Panel has a regimented rubric for evaluating applicants. The selection process requires that each project be considered innovative, inspiring, replicable, and scalable. The project must also have enhanced the long-term sustainability of the coffee industry by improving conditions for the people depending on coffee for their livelihood, and/or creating conditions that have resulted in improved long-term durability of the project in either producing or consuming areas across the industry.

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Congo Coffee Revival

After much consideration and discussion, the Council determined that the winner of SCAA’s 2014 Sustainability Award Winner would be a project called “Congo Coffee Revival: Regenerating Communities by Linking Remote Farmers to Mainstream Markets.” For this project, Twin, a UK-based ethical trading organization, set out to engage new producers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and help them access value-added markets for the first time. Twin’s first partnership was with SOPACDI, a coffee cooperative in this region, which had 284 members and was in need of support, capacity building, and access to international markets. Since 2008, Twin has worked to build production and export capacity for this cooperative, including coffee farm rehabilitation, processing infrastructure, and business and governance capacity.

Twin also partnered with UK supermarket Sainsbury’s and roaster Finlays under a Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund (FRICH), funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and Comic Relief, in 2009. The collaboration sought to bring together a wealth of industry expertise to support marginalized producers with training and new facilities to improve quality, as well as to provide access to mainstream markets and product development. In 2011, Sainsbury’s successfully launched a DRC and Malawi blend that included SOPACDI’s coffee.

Without a doubt, Twin’s Congo Coffee Revival Project stood out, not only on the score sheets, but also in our hearts. The project is an inspiring testament to the transformative property of collaboration. While working in one of the most difficult settings, Twin’s project has been able to engage new producers and provide access to the international market. Through a strong partnership with SOPACI, Twin has developed a sustainable source of specialty coffee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, through a pioneering partnership between private and non-profit actors. This is a true model of a comprehensive supply-chain seed-to-cup business. Twin supported SOPACDI in becoming the first Fairtrade- and organic-certified cooperative in the DRC, and uses those premiums to fund renovation work to improve processing facilities as well as increase coffee quality. A strengthened local co-operative now links a direct supply of specialty, certified coffee from smallholder farmers in the DRC to coffee consumers worldwide.

However, this project is not just about delivering great coffee to consumers. It is about creating a sustainable market in one of the most impoverished, fragile places on the planet. It has made coffee a commercially successful and attractive crop for farmers who had largely abandoned or neglected fields, as well as providing regular income to families in an area where poverty is overwhelming and employment opportunities are scarce. Today the cooperative has more than 5,200 members, 1,450 of whom are women. The project’s empowering and inclusive initiative is one that echoes SCAA’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. In the words of Managing Director Nico Mounard, what Twin found with SOPACDI was not just the potential for world-class coffee: it was amazing, resilient people. This project has created a positive image of the DRC and its people as hopeful and enterprising.

The runners-up for this year’s award were Root Capital’s “Rootlink” project and Progreso Foundation’s  “A Million Coffee Trees” project, both inspiring examples of conscientious leadership on sustainability platforms. Although we can only award one project each year, these projects are certainly worth mentioning and deserving of your attention as well.

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Rootlink

Focusing on financial capacity building, Root Capital’s “Rootlink” project endeavors to train smallholder farmers to manage loans effectively, opening up access to sustainable credit so they can overcome unforeseen obstacles like coffee rust, changing weather patterns, and market volatility.

In partnership with Keurig Green Mountain and InterAmerican Development Bank, the RootLink project focuses on three priorities. The first of these is providing new opportunities for individual farmers to access credit, allowing them to make critical investments in farm productivity and profitability, and to develop alternative revenue streams, thereby contributing to poverty reduction, enhanced household food security, and environmental conservation. The second is designing replicable models for farmer-level income diversification and food security by providing tools for farmers. By utilizing microenterprise packages, farmers will be able to generate alternative sources of income and mitigate food insecurity at the household level. The third is providing new credit for farmer organizations and opening new sources of financing by sharing best practices in agricultural lending with local financial institutions.

The RootLink project merges lessons learned from the microfinance sector with best practices in financial management to strengthen producer organizations. With an intimate understanding of the needs of small producers, RootLink enables producer organizations to match credit disbursements with harvest-cycle cash flows and collateralize loans with the projected harvest. Still, many organizations do not have Internal Credit Systems, or they are poorly managed.

The project is also catalyzing new financing for producers. Producer groups need access to timely, affordable financing in order to purchase, aggregate, process, and export product to higher-value markets. To ensure scale and long-term sustainability, Root Capital is engaging local financial institutions to share lessons learned and best practices in agricultural lending in order to open up new local financing options for producer organizations.

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A Million Coffee Trees

Progreso’s goal for the project “A Million Coffee Trees,” has been to improve the lives of 6,000 small-scale coffee producers, as well as to restore the degraded environment on the slopes of the Mount Elgon region of Uganda. Through this unique project, the local small-scale coffee producers are transformed from drivers of environmental degradation to caretakers and stewards of their local ecosystem.

The slopes of Mount Elgon were so degraded and barren that landslides had become common, leading to many deaths, as well as a significant decrease in the coffee output and quality, creating systemic poverty and more forest encroachment. The One Million Coffee Trees project put an end to this downward spiral, by literally planting a million coffee trees (and counting). As the ecological health of the region is restored, so is the condition of the coffee plants, leading to increased productivity and higher quality of the Highland Bugisu Arabica coffee produced.

Furthermore, to counter an important driver of deforestation, 13,000 fuel-efficient cook stoves will be installed. Not only will this drastically reduce the household consumption of fuel wood, it will also have positive health impacts and reduce the carbon emissions. These stoves are less polluting, thereby releasing less toxic smoke and fewer fumes. According to the World Health Organization, exposure from these cook stoves is the fifth-largest health risk to people living in developing nations, leading to a host of health problems mainly affecting women, young girls, and children.

Another benefit to these stoves is that women will have more time for productive activities. Using these fuel-efficient cook stoves will mean they need to collect less wood, and will have more time and energy to participate in value-creating activities, such as working on their family’s or their own coffee farms.

rosemaryRosemary Trent, executive director of Pueblo a Pueblo, leads a team committed to improving the lives of indigenous Guatemalan women and children. Over the last four years, she has created and grown successful grassroots programs that partner with local schools to provide access to education, health care, improved nutrition, and food security in coffee-growing communities. She speaks Spanish and Portuguese. Rosemary sits on SCAA’s Sustainability Council and was a member of the panel that determined this year’s award recipient. 

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