The situations of coffee-producing countries worldwide vary, but two common factors loom over the future of coffee production: social development and the need to adapt to climate change.
How can the future of coffee be protected today in light of this scenario? This was the topic of the round table organised by illycaffè at the UN Headquarters in New York on the occasion of the Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award 2023, attended by some of the world's leading experts in the sector.
Coffee production has traditionally been a mainstay of agriculture for millions of people living in tropical mountainous areas: about 12.5 million farms, run by small farmers, work on a few hectares of land. Ninety-five percent of these do not exceed five hectares, and 84 percent have an area of fewer than two hectares. Coffee producers often have little alternative to growing this product, which creates a considerable dependency on the exports of many countries. However, over the past two decades, low and volatile coffee prices have worriedly impacted farming communities. According to Coffee Barometer, this is particularly relevant for producers in countries contributing 15 percent of global volumes, such as Africa and Central America. Now, the remarkable improvements that caffeiculture has nevertheless achieved in recent decades through the process of 'de-commoditisation' - improvements that still have a long way to go before achieving economic, social and environmental sustainability - are at risk of being reversed due to climate change.
The direction from the round table points towards regenerative agriculture, which has proven to be more resilient and produce both environmental and health benefits, although it requires investments in the order of USD 10 billion over the next ten years. Therefore, since producer countries do not have sufficient economic-financial capacity, activating private-public partnerships that can mobilise international supply chain funds is necessary. This major challenge has already engaged the most important governmental, intergovernmental, non-governmental and private stakeholders for some years.
"For having a future in coffee, we need to think about the Planet and the people involved in that," said Vanusia Nogueira, Executive Director of the International Coffee Organisation.
"It's part of our responsibility as leaders of this sector to look for alternatives to provide good life to the producers and their families and take care of our Planet. The challenges are big enough to not be addressed individually but in a collective and pre-competitive effort. Together, I believe we can find impactful solutions."
"My morning coffee will never be grown in Central Park but will continue to be grown in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. A well-managed developing country with access to major markets and international finance can grow quickly", said economist Jeffrey Sachs.
"True economic development aims to transform our society by creating sustainable increases in wellbeing through investments in human capital, physical infrastructure, and business enterprise, all with attention to the preservation of natural capital on which our economy and survival depend. After decades of severe human-induced environmental degradation, we need to transform our economies to the core principles of sustainable development and the regeneration of natural capital."
Sachs added that the most basic principle is to act for the common good and that cooperation should exist within communities, nations, and globally.
Andrea Illy, chairman of illycaffè and co-chair of the Regenerative Society Foundation, said improved agronomic practices and the renewal of plantations with more resistant varieties are needed for adaptation to climate change.
"Regenerative agriculture seems to answer the first need, and I hope this will become a model for the whole caffeiculture. As far as renewal is concerned, we need to speed up considerably. All this requires supply chain investments that cannot be delayed any longer."