What role for coffee companies?

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In sub-Saharan Africa, the coffee sector has a triple function: economic, social and environmental. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the pandemic has caused global prices to drop by 30% in 2020. Job losses threaten millions of people, who could be pushed into poverty and food insecurity by due to the loss of jobs and income.

Coffee companies across Africa are involved at all stages of the coffee value chain. Their role in the resilience of the coffee sector is essential. In this context, the World Bank Youth Summit in 2021 offered selected participants the opportunity to make recommendations to strengthen the sustainability of a coffee business in Africa. This article develops the recommendations made, illustrating the role that coffee companies can play in integrating social and environmental principles that contribute to the resilience of the sector.

The guide to help coffee companies adjust their sustainability strategy is based on the IFC’s framework of eight performance standards. This position focuses on Standard 1 (Assessment and management of environmental and social risks) and Standard 6 (Conservation of biodiversity and sustainable management of living natural resources), the two areas most affected by the pandemic.

Ensure permanent protection of the health of coffee producers and workers

The main challenge encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic was access to health protection equipment. In Ethiopia, 49% of coffee farmers did not have access to an adequate health system.

The IFC 1 standard considers that coffee companies have a role to play in developing a contingency plan for health risks. This involves providing producers and workers with protective equipment (masks, soap, etc.) and an efficient health system (infirmary, sinks, vaccines, etc.)

Efforts have been made by coffee companies like Olam Specialty Coffee, which has put in place an emergency medical response plan to share medical supplies with 1,100 coffee households in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the pandemic. To mitigate future shocks, coffee companies in Africa should develop a partnership with local authorities to facilitate access and distribution of protective equipment in the event of border closures and containment.

Improve and diversify the income of coffee producers

The pandemic has had devastating repercussions for coffee farmers without other sources of income. In Zimbabwe 22% of farmers lost their income. Coffee companies have a dual role to play in meeting this challenge given IFC 1 and 6 standards.

First, coffee companies must improve the incomes of coffee producers by finding outlets to sell their coffee outside of European exporting countries.

Using digital technology, coffee companies could develop applications that make it easy for producers to sell their product directly to local and sub-regional markets. The Beyco platform, which enabled coffee cooperatives to sell their coffee during the pandemic, is just one example. In Côte d’Ivoire, the CICAO cooperative used Beyco to sell nearly 5,000 tonnes of coffee in 2020.

Second, coffee businesses must help producers diversify their sources of income by adopting good agricultural practices.

Developing agroforestry in coffee plantations by introducing food crops or fruit trees is a good method that can mitigate climate change and ensure food security and people’s income. The World Bank and the IFC are piloting projects in East Africa for the sustainable coffee sector with the adoption of good agricultural practices. Coffee companies should partner with these institutions to pilot projects aimed at improving and diversifying producer incomes, a win-win situation for producers and buyers.

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