WCPF and AVANCE – A Perspective

Image: Miguel Zamora

Last month, over 1,500 coffee people gathered together in Campinas, Brazil for the II World Coffee Producers Forum (WCPF) – arguably the most important coffee industry gathering organized by (and mainly for) producing countries. The event focused on issues of economic (un) viability of coffee farming.

For too long, conversations about sustainability at the coffee industry level have lacked a strong presence of farmers (especially smallholder farmers) and workers (almost totally absent in the sustainability discussions). This is not because they do not have a strong voice. Smallholders and farmworkers represent the majority of people involved in the coffee industry. You only have to attend a coffee cooperative general assembly to realize how strong the voice of smallholders can be. Farmers and workers have been absent at major sustainability discussions because including them requires organizations based in the global north to significantly get out of our comfort zone. It requires we work on different logistics (translation/interpretation, travel, etc.). It requires an approach to inclusivity that is rarely seen as necessary, important or valuable by the organizations and companies dictating what sustainability is or should be.

Although there are exceptions to this, for the most part, the sustainability discussions in the coffee industry at large have lacked strong, well represented farmer and worker voices. This has arguably also meant that farmers and workers benefit the least from the USD $200 billion global coffee industry. Those two things are related.

And this is the most important achievement of WCPF: the fact that it has brought together representatives from the major coffee producing countries to discuss and advocate on behalf of coffee producers at the higher industry levels. We now have a stronger, more active and organized voice of producing countries in coffee. Although there are other international spaces such as ICO, or even the regional producer networks of the fair-trade system, the WCPF has become the group with the biggest impact in driving the conversation at industry (and general public) levels regarding the need to act towards farmer economic viability in coffee.

And this is not an easy task. Coffee-producing countries are a diverse group, and they are facing different challenges regarding the price of coffee and the climate crisis (different costs of production and productivity levels, different presence of drought and/or off-season rains, etc). Yet facing these challenges also present opportunities for this diverse group of producers to have a more unified voice for the future of coffee. Together, they are stronger.

A second opportunity for inclusion of farmer voices happened right after the WCPF. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) hosted its second AVANCE Conference – this time, in Brazil. AVANCE was designed to gather input and feedback from different stakeholders (mainly producers) on the sustainability work of SCA. This was an opportunity to have more direct discussions with farmers, farmer representatives, NGO’s and a few coffee buyers. The SCA is going through a year-long process to create recommendations that could help to create systematic change to the coffee price crisis affecting farming communities. Although the association understands the urgency that the coffee price crisis brings to people, it knows it’s important to also work on initiatives that do not only create transactional improvements, but transformational change.

At AVANCE, I facilitated discussions at a table formed by coffee farmers and farmer representatives (leaders from cooperatives or producer organizations) from several countries in Latin America. The combined experience of everyone at the table was over 150 years of farming, organizing farmers, exporting, and reaching out to consumers directly. Farmers had different perspectives and opinions on what we could do next. But at the end, their final recommendation focused on the role that “specialty coffee” could play in the economic viability of coffee farming. My table recommended that specialty coffee should state (in the short term) and promote, if not enforce (in the longer term), that coffees called “specialty” cover not only the cost of producing these coffees but allow for a living income for those farmers. Any coffee called “specialty” should be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. That is the type of bold recommendation that happens when farmers have a seat at the table.

That week in Campinas, Brazil, showed the potential we have when we have discussions and design programs that are truly inclusive of the entire value chain. WCPF and AVANCE represent progress we can build from. Companies and NGO’s can do a better job including farmers and workers’ voices in their work. The entire industry would benefit from that.

  • A guest blog from Miguel Zamora, Director, Markets Transformation – Core Markets, Rainforest Alliance

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