Brussels – June 16, 2016 – Today, at European Development Days, representatives from Rwanda and Mexico joined leadership from Conservation International and current partners to announce the first two countries to join the Sustainable Coffee Challenge – a global collaborative effort aimed at making coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. The Challenge convenes industry, conservation, agricultural development partners – and now for the first time, governments – in the shared goal of increasing demand for sustainable coffee by establishing commitments by actors across the sector. These commitments will stimulate further collective action around a common framework, which will underscore the necessary and urgent need to increase widespread adoption of sustainable practices by producers to help safeguard the prosperity and wellbeing of farmers while also conserving forests, water and soil. All of these efforts will help to ensure a lasting and sustained coffee supply for generations to come.
Conservation International identified the need for the Challenge in collaboration with Starbucks and launched the initiative with 18 partners during the UN climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015. The Challenge has since grown to comprise 48 partners, including inaugural commitments from these two countries toward ethical and sustainable agricultural practices for their coffee sectors.
“Coffee is a critically important commercial crop in Rwanda. It plays a major role in the economy of the country, contributing significantly to foreign exchange earnings and to the monetisation of the rural economy,” said Ambassador Bill Kayonga, Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB). “More than 355,000 small holder farm families produce and depend on it for their livelihoods. We have an obligation to these farmers, their lands and the economy of our country to ensure the continued sustainability of the industry.”
Rwanda’s commitment includes efforts to increase production/yield per tree, improve soil fertility, strengthen farmer organizations, increase local coffee consumption, and improve the traceability along the value chain.
“Coffee is a crucial product for Mexico with a current estimated production of 2.35 million bags annually,” added Santiago Arguello, Director of Coordination for Mexico’s Integrated Plan for the Care of Coffee from the Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA). “As in most coffee producing regions around the world, the vast majority of our coffee is grown by smallholder farmers – nearly 500,000 – who rely on the industry for their economic livelihoods. We believe that by publicly stating our commitment to work with our farmers to ensure sustainable practices that increase productivity and enhance their livelihood, while also minimizing the impact on the ecosystem, we can help set an example of how to elevate positive outcomes across all coffee producing regions.”
Mexico’s commitments include improving farm productivity, providing access to credit programs and improving the capacity and skills of the producers.
The Challenge comes at a pivotal time, as warming temperatures, drought and changing weather patterns, compounded by market volatility and aging coffee trees continue to negatively impact the industry. These issues are already affecting coffee growing regions of Mexico and Rwanda by way of extreme weather, floods and increased crop diseases, such as leaf rust. These fluctuations affect supply, producer livelihoods and the overall environment.
“At Starbucks, we source coffee from more than thirty countries around the world, working hand in hand with farmers to ensure they get access to the tools, information and resources that will help ensure their longevity and the sustainability of the industry,” said Craig Russell, executive vice president, global coffee, Starbucks. “We are proud purchasers of high-quality coffee from Mexico and Rwanda for many years, with both countries part of our ethical sourcing program for over a decade. It’s exciting to see their engagement in the Challenge and the role they can have in effecting change on a broad scale”.
Beginning next week, the Sustainable Coffee Challenge will be collecting commitments like those made by both countries through an online Commitments Hub on www.sustaincoffee.org. The Hub will help identify and catalogue various commitments to sustainable production and related initiatives underway across the coffee sector. The goal is to increase transparency about what is already being done, share knowledge of what is working, measure successes in concrete terms and, ultimately, ensure shared success in making coffee sustainable for the long-term.
“Conservation International has been working with companies across the coffee industry to encourage sustainability for nearly two decades. We know from experience that we can grow coffee in a way that protects forests and farmers – but we need to keep pushing these techniques to global scale,” said Peter Seligmann, Chairman and CEO of Conservation International. “No single entity can do it alone. We’re encouraged by the commitments made today by Mexico and Rwanda and challenge others to join us in this effort toward truly achieving the world’s first sustainable agricultural product.”