2013

The View

The View

Unbelievably, this online issue represents the eighth year that we have published the Making a Difference magazine. Remember, as before, CoffeeTalk is once again donating $1,000 to the non-profit that receives the most click-through to their website. Over the years we have seen many great ideas – some have gone on to flourish, and some have perished, but they all have represented the best that we hope for our industry and ourselves.

We have witnessed a clear shift in the purpose of non-profit activities away from specific solutions – water and sanitation, education, and housing for example – toward more holistic approaches that involved the entire farming community.

At the lead of these developments is the idea of ‘sustainability.’ This word has been evolving over the years as more organizations embrace the core fundamentals and implement them as part of their programs. Sustainable communities, in a nutshell, are those that have received a water system (for example), and the resultant increase in prosperity enables them to buy their own replacement parts and find their own expertise to maintain and repair the system, ultimately removing the external donor from the equation.

For years most non-profits approach was to place programs in developing countries that seemed like the perfect idea in the boardroom but found no traction in the served communities. Many well-intentioned ideas sputtered and ended because the program required renewing commitments of financial and technological support. This is not sustainable.

How many community health clinics have closed because no long term provision for staffing was made and no expanded prosperity programs arose in the community to pay for staffing locally. Frankly, the reason there was not a health program in the first place was that the community could not afford to pay for it themselves. Believing that filling a spare building with bandages, antibiotics, and speculums is going to fix the base problem is naïve.

So now, as many of the following articles will show, non-profits have moved toward a clearer understanding of the role that prosperity plays in the success of communities and the role that prosperity in the wider community plays in the business success of coffee growing farmers.

Micro-credit loans, direct market making, information sharing, and global communication are becoming important tools in “kickstarting” the progression toward community self-sufficiency and the emergence of the community as the key evaluator of needs and planning.

For years we at CoffeeTalk have addressed this idea of changing perception. Direct contact between farmers and roasters has accelerated the recognition of coffee farmers as business partners. We have tried to show that farmers are a whole lot more competent business owners than many give them credit. And, more importantly, they are the agents for change in their communities. If one were to develop an influence hierarchy in a coffee-centric town, the growers would be at the top of the food chain. Their business and personal purchases, as well as the purchases of their employees and seasonal hires are what drive the prosperity and employment in the town. Often in their little town, they are the “Bill Gates.” They are the people we should be making our closest partners. In the Northern Hemisphere, these types of primary influencers are vital to all of our business sales success. Why not in the coffeelands?

Specialty coffee is amazing in its drive to reinvest in coffee growing communities, but how will we respond to the coffee rust fungus? Depressed coffee prices and radically reduced yields will leave many growers little cash to fight off the rust and reinvest in new planting. Food insecurity, broad population movement, abandoned farms, massive loss of employment for seasonal workers are very real possibilities. Will we as an industry do the right thing and pay more for Central American coffee in order to support the communities we do business with? Or, will we follow the old path – source cheaper and lower quality coffees from other regions, ignore farmer issues for eight months out of the year, blend in some Robusta because we have been told “It’s Okay,” and whine that we don’t set the price anyway. Hmmm.

These are interesting times!

Kerri & Miles

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