As the second largest traded commodity in the world, it is crucial that the coffee industry begins to take more positive steps to look after the environments that it affects. After all, it is one of the most important and economically powerful crops in the world, and also one of the most severely impacted by climate change.
The physical impacts of climate change are not distributed equally, with most devastating effects being felt in countries surrounding the equator - or the coffee belt. These changes are amplified further when poverty is considered, since most poor communities depend on natural resources like coffee to survive. For example, it is estimated that around a quarter of Ethiopian people make their living from growing coffee. The industry's constant challenges consist of soil degradation, water-strain, livelihood pressures, and coffee rust - a devastating leaf disease that is fuelled by rising temperatures. Coffee production is expected to significantly decrease in some areas because of these problems.
If coffee is not sustainable for farmers, physically and economically, then there is no incentive to grow and maintain the crop in the first place. The ultimate effect of this is an inevitable deterioration in the quality of the crop.
The speciality industry takes pride in its focus on sustainability, and its emphasis on the biodiversity of the ecosystem that sustains the coffee crop. The Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA) accentuates that sustainability is a journey, and it requires the close attention of everyone within the industry, as well as consumers. Conversations about how we can provide meaningful economic benefit to farmers, encourage investment and assure supply are therefore of fundamental importance. With positive steps and small changes, we are helping to nudge this journey in the right direction, and hope to ultimately reduce the consequences of convenience behaviour on these farming communities.
People are becoming inspired to collaborate and to address issues such as climate change, which will ultimately effect us all. Making small changes
These joint efforts may have a local focus, with baristas representing different retail outlets organizing events to raise awareness among coffee drinkers about the farmers growing coffee around the world. They may also span countries, with multi-national coffee companies coming together to discuss how to coordinate investments in, say, food security, at a regional or national level. Despite operating at different scales, both initiatives help increase awareness of sustainability. By undertaking to do more together and communicating a shared message, we build the case for sustainability as a driver of coffee’s value to the customer, and not just an add-on. Some steps are small and some are big, but ultimately, we’re walking the same path.