Around the world, we drink 3 billion cups of coffee every single day (Samper et al., 2017). However, what is a mindless ritual for many people in developed countries is actually the product of an intricate system, upon which millions of livelihoods depend. Whilst people from all over the world enjoy this beverage on a daily basis, fond of its convivial element and energising effects, it is not often that we stop and think: what are the environmental and social impacts of coffee? If we want to keep drinking and enjoying our beloved drink, something ought to be done to address the many sustainability challenges it faces. Greener Beans wants to help in this endeavour, and make it easy for citizens to choose more sustainable coffee for their home brewed morning cup.
What are the main problems behind coffee production?
Coffee is cultivated primarily in the so called “bean belt”, in the area between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Whilst production happens mostly in the Global South, the great majority of consumption takes place in wealthy countries of the Global North. The severe power imbalances which characterise coffee trade are the legacy of 500 years of colonialism, and inequitable pay and treatment remain a huge problem to this day. While no single stakeholder along the supply chain has directly created this horrible situation, it is up to all of us to decide whether to challenge it or not. The good news is that with coffee being a widely appreciated and globally traded commodity, all of us coffee drinkers have the potential to affect the actions of the coffee industry to support a better quality of life for its producers. One good example of a company that is doing admirable things is that of Pachamama Coffee Cooperative in California. They are a specialty coffee roaster in North America entirely owned and governed by smallholder farmers in countries such as Ethiopia, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Since farmers have direct control over the whole value chain, from seed to cup, this ensures that profits actually flow back to origin.
Nowadays, coffee production and consumption are severely threatened by climate change. Existing research suggests that by 2050 about half of the land used for coffee will stop being productive, further worsening the current issue of having to move crops to higher altitudes.
Rising temperatures are also linked to the increasing likelihood of coffee plants developing pests and diseases, such as stem rust.
From an environmental perspective, one potential solution would be that of agroforestry. Farmers could start following the model of Mió Fazenda, a coffee farm in Monte Santo de Minas, Brazil, where 30% of their land is dedicated to coffee plantations and another 30% is native forest. If a new area becomes a coffee crop, a reforestation project is undertaken alongside. This is a way to keep the balance between economic and environmental sustainability.
What could be done to improve the sustainability of the coffee industry?
Over the years there have been attempts to try and improve the coffee supply chain. The coffee sector is characterised by a plethora of sustainability standards and certifications, such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance, but this abundance often translates into excessive pressure on the producers, who have to navigate different criteria and comply with different schemes characterised by different requirements. Not to mention the fact that it can create great confusion for the consumers when it comes to choosing what to purchase.
This is where Greener Beans can help.
At Greener Beans, we recognise that coffee production (like all food production) is complicated and that there are no simple answers. There can potentially be big differences in the sustainability of coffee producers and some production/trading models are better than others. We want to make it easier for citizens to make better choices about the beans that they buy but without the hassle. Through our research and analysis, we streamline the process for you to make it as easy as possible to make a more sustainable choice. We look at where and how products are produced, consider the different certification schemes (and other metrics) to provide a more sustainable alternative so you can feel confident that you’re purchasing a more sustainable bag of beans.
So let us help you become a more sustainable shopper.