Connecting at Origin – Approaching Sustainability from a Holistic Perspective
In order to approach the subject of sustainability it is imperative to look at the industry in a holistic way. This not only starts by examining your own practices but also by understanding what happens throughout the supply chain, and particularly, the issues taking place at origin. With this in mind, this November two major events took place in Costa Rica that brought individuals from all over the world to connect, discuss ideas, learn, and share findings about the world of coffee. And what better place to do this than in a place where coffee is actually grown?
Sintercafé is known as the biggest coffee event in a producer country. For a producer, this is a conference to learn, but most importantly to network and connect with buyers. Various farmers in Costa Rica had the opportunity to entertain their buyers and show them their country, as well as their farms and practices. Farmers from other countries had the chance to not only meet new buyers, but also discover and learn about new and different ways of growing, processing, and selling coffee. Other industry professionals had an opportunity to create a profound relationship with farmers, develop new relationships, and connect with their existing clients on a deeper level.
Another major conference that took place in Costa Rica this September was the 24th International Conference on Coffee Science organized by ASIC (Association for Science and Information on Coffee.) This was the first time it was done in a Central American region, and it achieved record attendance with over 500 attendees from 38 countries. While very technical and scientific, the purpose of this conference is to inform the world about the results and achievements of the most recent scientific studies related to coffee.
According to Andrea Illy, President of ASIC and CEO of IllyCaffé, “The most important macro issue that the world faces today is sustainability: Social, environmental, and economical.” For this reason, two major topics were addressed at this conference: Coffee and Health and Coffee and Climate. The first subject, addressed how coffee improves health, as it focused on the vast medical evidence that shows how the consumption of coffee is linked to minimizing the risk of diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancers. Furthermore, other health related subjects were discussed, such as addressing components in coffee that might affect health and how to neutralize them.
The section on Coffee and Health began with James Coughlin, Board Member of ASIC and President of Coughlin & Associates, presenting on the topic of coffee and cancer, and the news that has been reported on this subject by presenting scientific research showing that coffee actually helps prevent many types of cancer. “15 years have been spent defending coffee and its impacts on health. We have been trying to change the consumer’s mentality and perception about coffee because through science we have found that most of the bad reputation of coffee was wrong.” stated Coughlin.
The latter topic, which focused on Coffee and Climate, focused on the development of new disease and climate resistant varieties; new and improved agronomical practices; and the impact of climate change on coffee. Coffee is very important in Central America and many other parts of the world. Many families are based and supported by coffee production, meaning that coffee has a direct effect on their economic and social standing. Currently, producers have various challenges that they cannot solve themselves; topics like climate change that are affecting crops, yields, and therefore, the very sustainability and livelihood of the farmer. “What we are trying to do at this conference is invite various presenters to exhibit several issues and possible solutions.” said Coughlin.
Every country has its idiosyncrasies in how they produce, process, and sell coffee, and there is much to be learned about these differences. The attendees of these conferences had not only the opportunity to talk about sustainable practices, but to actually witness it in Costa Rica. Unlike many countries, coffee production in Costa Rica is regulated by multiple laws and decrees, which warrant fair pricing along the entire coffee supply chain within the country. In addition, these laws and decrees protect bio-diversity, forests, and water resources to ensure the sustainability of the industry and the environment.
If we understand what is happening since the inception of coffee, until this is a final product, only then, will we be able to truly approach the concept of sustainability and accurately educate consumers. If difficulties arise at origin, this will have a direct effect on the end product. By coming together to share concepts, ideas, and research we will be able to connect and improve our daily practices to ensure the sustainability of our industry as a whole, from crop to cup.
Ashley Prentice, Freelance Journalist
CoffeeTalk Media & Certified Q-Grader.