Sustainability of coffee sector stirs hope for East African farmers to reap big

The recently concluded CEOs and Global Leaders Forum in Bogotá, Colombia has set into motion the extending of frontiers of the coffee sector advancement. The event which convened high-level coffee leaders and stakeholders in partnership with the members of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) proposed concerted efforts by all coffee sector players to, among other topics, achieve sustainability in the entire coffee value chain.

The forum which was supported by IDH, a global organisation that brings together people within corporations, the global financial sector and governments that have the most influence over global value chains to co-create and co-invest with the aim of creating better jobs, better incomes, a better environment, and gender equality for all, spells new optimism for coffee farmers in East Africa who for many years have been grappling with challenges characterised by volatile prices, high cost of production, low yields and the consequent low returns which do not guarantee a living income to support their households.

What this has translated to over the years is that farmers in East Africa are gradually shifting from coffee farming and opting for other economic activities, both on and off farm. Coffee farmers are also among the poor divide of the farming population in East African countries, a trait that extends to the entire globe, despite producing one of the most expensive and prestigious agricultural products in the world.

It is hard to imagine the effect of this on global livelihoods and economies noting that coffee provides livelihoods for 25 million smallholders farmer who produce 80% of the world’s coffee, and for a further 100 million people in coffee-producing countries, making the coffee sector a crucial anchor for development and a driver of prosperity and sustainability. Coffee farmers have continued to bear a disproportionate share of both risk and value, compared to other actors in the downstream segment of the supply chain.

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The CEOs and Global Leaders Forum in Bogotá also focused on the challenges faced by farmers especially since the Resolution 465 of the London Declaration was signed in 2019. The discussion by all the players on taking responsibility and action in times of massive disruptive change, the resolution on promoting the sector’s transparency and value distribution, as well ways of benefitting from the opportunities in terms of jobs creation and income offered by the coffee sector was a step towards sustainability in the sector.

The forum also took note of the Coffee Guide which is expected to catalyze the achievement of an agreement-driven implementation model that rewards sustainability, transparency and quality, and enables coffee farmers to achieve the well-being they deserve. Closer home, there is need for IDH and partners to continue working closer together to take advantage of the opportunities that come along with sustainability in the coffee industry.

Sustainability in coffee farming means ensuring that coffee withstands the challenges it faces, ranging from environmental, social and economic impacts and also ensuring that it continues to withstand its productivity and how it contributes to environmental and social and economic well-being as well as the well-being of farmers coffee.

A redacted version of this article was first published by Tobias Meso in The Standard newspaper in Kenya on Sunday 30th October 2022