Next Gen Interview with Bambi Semroc of Conservation International

NCA Next Gen recently had the chance to chat with Bambi Semroc, VP of Sustainable Markets and Strategy at Conservation International. The following Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Bambi Semroc

Next Gen: How did you first become interested in conservation and sustainability work?  Did your Peace Corps work in Togo help set you on this path?

Bambi: As I was finishing undergrad, I started becoming more and more interested in international development and in working overseas.  One of my professors, however, challenged me, asking what skillset I would bring with me if I went abroad. What can you do that those in your hosting region couldn’t do better?  So, realizing I needed to bolster my skill set, I went back to school to study international development with a concentration on the relationship between gender and successful agroforestry systems. This led perfectly to my Peace Corps assignment in Togo, where I was living in small, rural community located next to a protected area and worked on agroforestry and other community development programs. Returning from Togo, I joined Conservational International (CI), which was just developing its Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, and haven’t looked back since.

Next Gen: You’ve spent most of your career with Conservation International (CI) following your time in the Peace Corps. What about the work and culture at CI keeps you excited and motivated?

Bambi: Well, when I first joined CI, the idea of an environmental NGO working with the private sector was still relatively new. It took some effort to convince the corporations we approached that we were not looking to launch an attack, but rather that we wanted to collaborate with them. It was an exciting time. Overall, CI has a culture of innovation. It allows you to stake a course for yourself, and there always seems to be something new and exciting to work on. 

Next Gen: How has your career at CI evolved and how did you come to lead the Sustainable Coffee Challenge (SCC)? Have you always had an interest in sustainability within the coffee sector?

Bambi: It’s evolved from an internship while in grad school to now leading the coffee program and forming a new Center for Sustainable Lands and Waters.  And while I have worked on coffee the entire time, I don’t actually drink coffee. Rather than a love of the beverage, my drive comes from a love of the coffee tree.  It’s a crop that can grow under a tree canopy and holds great potential for rural development. So, my role at CI is constantly evolving, and coffee is only a portion of the work I do. Leading the SCC, however, is basically a dream job: managing the coffee program, engaging with major corporate leaders, and working closely with local communities.  Can’t ask for much more than that. 

Next Gen: It seems that leading the SCC you wear many hats. Do you have a favorite part of the job?  A least favorite?

Bambi: Overall, I could name two favorite parts. The first would be getting to meet and speak with producers, visit coffee farms, and see amazing natural areas.  The second would be trying to get industry participants aligned on sustainability efforts and goals. Seeing this alignment happen is extremely fulfilling and rewarding.  And, well, my least favorite part would be… trying to get the industry participants aligned on sustainability efforts and goals. While seeing the alignment happen is fulfilling, it takes a lot of time and I know that, when it comes to our gravest environmental concerns, time is not a luxury we have. So, I worry about not being able to drive collective action and alignment fast enough.

Next Gen: You’ve taken on a very exciting role within sustainability and coffee industry. Is there anything you can point to that helped you achieve this success?

Bambi: In the first place, you have to find your passion, then you have to work hard. My first role at CI was an internship in which I had one task: research how to grow cocoa sustainably in one region of West Africa. I poured my heart and soul into that internship. As a result, my research grew and grew, and I received recognition within CI for this effort. I’ve been working side by side for the last 18 years with that same manager who took over the cocoa program while I was an intern.

Next Gen: The SCC’s mission is to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. It seems “sustainability” means something different to each actor in the industry – what does “sustainability” mean in the context of the SCC?

Bambi: SCC recognized that there was not alignment regarding what sustainability means throughout the industry, so we set out to try to establish a common framework. The framework is based around four compass points: Improve livelihoods, conserve nature, sustain supply, strengthen market demand. We are now embedding carbon sequestration more formally in the conserve nature point. However, in additional to a common alignment on sustainability, we’ve also developed a common definition for success.  But yes, in the end, the question still comes up: What counts as sustainable coffee?

Next Gen: During your tenure leading the SCC, are you happy with the changes and improvements you’ve seen across the industry? In terms of sustainability, where do you see the industry heading?

Bambi: We have seen a lot of progress but, ultimately, I feel we are never moving fast enough. This is the reason behind forming the SCC:  How do we catalyze more effort? We have major challenges—climate change, deforestation, freshwater degradation, etc.—but we can get there.  Moving forward, we need to see more innovation around sustainability. We need to talk more about living incomes for producers and workers. We need to talk more about capturing CO2. And, in the end, we need to take a very holistic approach and ask what is good for the producers, communities, landscapes, and regions.

Next Gen: What challenges do Covid-19 pose to the work of the SCC and, more broadly, to the sustainability efforts across the coffee industry?

Bambi: Covid-19 brings tremendous challenges to the entire coffee sector. It’s changed where people drink their coffee, which has profound impacts on retailers and roasters in particular. Covid-19 also forces us to recognize the fragility of the coffee industry – from the safety and availability of workers picking the coffee to those milling and roasting the coffee. Then, it also gives us a moment to reflect on why we are so fragile and how we can find a better balance with people and nature. With regards to sustainability in general, Covid-19 only emphasizes how important the work we are pursuing is.

Next Gen: What advice do you have for someone trying to get involved in sustainability within the coffee industry?

Bambi: Again, first you have to find your passion.  If you want to get involved in sustainability, find exactly what it is within the space drives you and gets you excited.  Then, on a very practical level, field experience in invaluable. It gives you empathy and an understanding of the reality on the ground in some of the world’s most vulnerable places.

Next Gen: What changes would you like to see in the coffee industry moving forward? The audience of this interview is comprised of the young coffee professionals that will drive the coffee industry in the future—what message do you have for them?

Bambi: I see so much hope with the younger generations.  These are generations in which the majority actually care about social and environmental issues. So my hope is that this generation sparks a new wave of sustainability in the sector – that harnesses this interest and passion to truly transition the entire sector to a sustainable and resilient future.

NCA Next Generation Interview with Phyllis Johnson, President, BD Imports

Phyllis P. Johnson

The following is an interview between the NCA Next Generation group and Phyllis Johnson, co-founder and president of BD Imports, a roasted coffee importer serving the food service, hospitality, wholesale, and retail markets.

In 2018, Phyllis authored “Strong Black Coffee: Why Aren’t African-Americans More Prominent in the Coffee Industry?” to shine a light on the lack of diversity and representation of Black Americans she saw and experienced in the coffee industry. Phyllis continues to fight for an anti-racist coffee industry today, and recently called on industry leaders to provide resources, tools, and funding to fight racism in the industry.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

You grew up in a farming family in Arkansas. Did your agricultural background play a role in your choosing a career in coffee?

Initially I didn’t fully understand or see the connection, but it didn’t take long before I realized that I could have a greater connection to coffee based on my background.  I didn’t embrace my upbringings of having to work on the farm as a child.   Ironically, I was 35 years old, educated and well-established into my career when I was comfortable acknowledging parts of my upbringing. Having to work hard on the farm as a child wasn’t something that I was proud of, and it was hard for me to talk about it.  I remember riding on the back of a truck going through dusty fields, callouses on my hands from working so hard. 

I’m not totally sure why I found that part of my life embarrassing — hard work should be respected. I think it reminded me of our position in life.  A Black family working on the land of White farmers, my mom referring to the landowners as Mr. and them calling her by her first name and being paid low wages for incredibly hard physical work.  Growing up I always wanted to be someone different that who I was born to be.  Coffee has allowed me to go back in a weird sort of way and truly appreciate that part of me that I wanted to run away from, I believe that’s why I found comfort working in coffee. 

There were very important lessons I learned in those years of my life of working on the farm — not only hard work, but perseverance — and seeing my mom, a strong leader, who made lots of hard decisions.  I learned the value of humbleness, appreciating the simplicity of farm life.  My past gives me respect and empathy for coffee farmers. 

How did you get started in coffee? Were there any mentors in your past or present who helped you get here?

From day one of starting in coffee I had empowering mentors.  Having a mentor makes all the difference in the world in someone’s life. I have had mentors throughout my entire life both personally and professionally.  Some more significant than others.  Soon after becoming a mom, I realized that I not only wanted to encourage my children to live their dreams, but needed to be an example, so I pursued my dream of being a business owner.  Both me and my husband shared the same dream of being business owners.  A Kenyan man introduced me to coffee, and I became a student of coffee and it’s taken me on a journey around the world, but mostly back to my childhood experiences of working on the farm in Arkansas. 

There was a slightly older couple who lived in our community, and they became mentors.  They’d lived in Africa when they were younger; they taught at the local college and had a background in African American studies.  I believe they were the first to plainly speak to me about the history of coffee as I was trying to find my way.  I can hear them saying now, “You know, coffee is a product that was produced by the enslaved,” and they would go on to tell stories based on their education and life experiences. 

Coffee is a friendly industry, not to be confused with it being relentless when it comes to business and trade. I was fortunate to have several mentors, one in which continues to help guide me today. She’s been my mentor for the past 17 years, she always says, we’re “coffee sisters” and whenever I’m thanking her for her time and effort she says, “It takes a team, we’re a team Phyllis.” Having great mentors have taught me how to be a good mentor to others. I’ve also learned that the best mentors are those who uplift others with no expectations in return other than to see that person do well and go on and give back to others, we call that the ripple effect.  

We’re in the midst of a massive cultural shift in the way people of color are being seen and treated in society today. How do you think this transformation will impact the coffee industry in North America?

Maybe this cultural shift allows us tosee people of color, or should I say, Black people in a different way. The reality for Black people has been consistent throughout our history, racism morphs into a slightly different form with each generation, almost to a point to where it’s not seen by some as racism in society and often just totally denied.

I’m not totally sure how this enlightenment will transform our industry or society. We’ve had hopeful moments throughout history.  Hope and optimism are sometimes all we have in our darkest moments.   There are no quick solutions, and I’m afraid that we may think resolving years of racism all comes down to that one new hire at the company.  While I can appreciate good intentions, change will come from first an examination, then intentional actions to dismantle systemic racism.

Certain words and phrases make us uncomfortable and I believe that our first step is to become comfortable with not only words, but reality.  It’s not personal, and if you’re uncomfortable that means it’s meant for you to do something about it.  That’s how I see it.  We all have a great deal to get out of this shift or enlightenment.  This moment in time isn’t just for Black individuals to feel a sense of empowerment but it’s for everyone to grow and think of ways to build a better and more equitable society. 

Working in coffee affords us even greater opportunities because we have an industry that would benefit from more participation by Black Americans, many of the coffees we touch are from Black and Brown producers so there are opportunities to rid ourselves of centuries of oppressive business practices.  We have some work that will keep us busy for a while.   We need better solutions; more talent from Black Americans can deliver that. We have a track record of delivering something extra to everything we do.  

In 2018 you wrote an award-winning article titled “Strong Black Coffee: Why Aren’t African-Americans More Prominent in the Coffee Industry?” – What, if anything, do you feel has changed since writing that article?

The biggest thing that’s happened since that article was written is that more young professionals have been inspired on their journey in coffee.  I understand that companies are now using the article as a resource. It was such a personal journey to write the article. I believe the writing proved its value with the recent racial unrest that we’ve experienced in this country and the need to examine ourselves to be more inclusive.  I believe more individuals are comfortable speaking up and Blacks in coffee are becoming more visible. That’s what we need.

I don’t think that we can ever really quantify the value and impact of an article that speaks to the heart of an issue.  I realize what was missing for me when I came to coffee and I tried to create that for others so that they could find their way more quickly and become productive contributors for themselves and to the industry.  I gave up trying to quantify the effects of work after working on women’s empowerment in East Africa. Trying to quantify the impact of that work was like counting granules of sand, because women are continuing to run with opportunities far beyond my imagination, and that’s what so cool about empowerment. 

You echoed your calls for racial justice and better representation in coffee in your recent open letter titled “An Open Letter to the US Coffee Industry on Racism”. What has been the response to your letter so far, and what changes or actions have you seen from the coffee industry since it was published?

I am humbled by the response to the open letter.  The enthusiasm and interest in building a racially equitable industry has continued well over a month since the letter was released. When writing the letter, I didn’t think so much about how it would be received, but the need for us to acknowledge racial inequality and we needed a call to action.  Also, I wasn’t looking around for someone else to take the lead on this.  This was a leadership moment for the work that I not only engaged in but the essence of who I am, a Black woman who has been trying to find my way in the US coffee industry for the last 21 years.  I believe that we have started working towards change and it’s my hope that we never stop in generations to come. 

The biggest change that I’m seeing is the examination of where we are and how we got here.  There’s more tolerance around discussions on inclusiveness, we have actions to take and I’m working on the formation of an organization that will address these issues.  

How can the coffee industry turn their calls for racial justice and inclusion into action? What do you feel the industry should be doing that it isn’t?

Let me start by saying, I’ve not been harboring all the answers to this century-long problem in my head and only willing to release the answers in this interview. This is a complex problem, and the complexity isn’t wrapped up in what to do — the complexity rests in a will or desire to act or see a different future. 

One thing the coffee industry must do is to stop normalizing a lack of diversity.  See it as the problem it really is, a systemic problem that we get to help solve as best we can.  See a lack of racial diversity as missing solutions to important problems. See a lack of racial diversity as one of the highest risks to your business going forward.  It must be a priority, not a far-off wish or challenge that you’re trying to figure out with a dwindling budget during a pandemic.

We must rescue ourselves from our own helpless attitude toward racial diversity.   What should we do?  I’m hopeful that we can come together as an industry and work on solutions.  This is a non-competitive initiative that will bring us to new level.  Solutions are unique and meant for each of us to work towards our own best solutions based on our situations. 

We don’t have the option of staying silent on this issue of racial inequality, hoping this all blows over and then move on to something else.  Racial inequality is what built our country, and is what our industry is rooted in.  It’s not up for debate or finding better words to make it sound better, it is what it is, it’s why we are where we are today.

We must not only see ourselves as inheritors of systemic racism, but also architects who can build a better future. We are not without power.

What words of advice do you have for the next generation of coffee professionals who are just entering or considering entering the industry?

This is one of the most dynamic industries you can be involved in.  I would say to this next generation to get everything you can out of coffee, and by that I mean understand your position and power in the industry.  Know that you yourself may have chosen coffee based on your family heritage, or just somehow passionate about the beverage.  Coffee isn’t a choice for everyone — understand the value it holds for others who may never have the opportunities that you have.  Educate yourself on the history of coffee, chose to look beyond what is obvious and you’ll see more. Allow yourself to ask hard questions about coffee, but mostly allow yourself to tackle the hard problems in our industry.

I’d also say good luck, carry the banner forward, bring all of you to this work, if you so desire.  To the young men, make room for the brilliance of others to join in this work. You are the leaders that you’re looking for. 

Finally, as a seasoned coffee professional, how have you been coping during the pandemic? Any tips, tricks, or advice for our readers to help them get through this crisis?

Many of us will be able to proudly say one day that we not only lived through a major pandemic, but an economic recession, and racial strife all at the same time. That’s a lot.  There are really some beautiful moments in all of what we are experiencing.  I’ve had special moments with my family as well as professionally.  I had a video call not long ago with a young Hispanic woman, a new entrepreneur whom I’d never met before.  She started to share her experiences trying to get through the pandemic and it brought tears to our eyes.  I immediately felt connected to her and her struggle.  That would not have happened had we met at a coffee conference.  We put up a strong face most of the time when there’s a lot going on in business and life.  The pandemic has made me unapologetic about my emotions, and I’m enjoying that. 

I’m getting through this time just simply trying to be more human, connected to a purpose that’s bigger than me. I’m focused on using all that I’ve been given to uplift others, be a good mentor, and be part of the solution.  The only way that I know how to survive is to help others.  This time in my life there’s more clarity about who I am and my purpose.  I wish that for everyone, because I know how difficult it can be trying to discover your place in life.  I’m enjoying this time knowing there may be more times of confusion, but the one thing I’ve known for a long while is that it’s not just about me.   

Empowering Families Through Coffee, Today and Always

A message from the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and the National Coffee Association

During this time of challenge and significant hardship, sheltering in place has brought us closer to our families and loved ones. Coffee continues to provide comfort, health and perhaps the one routine that continues uninterrupted.  And so it is this week, the week we mark the International Day of Families, that the National Coffee Association (NCA) and IWCA share a message to connect and empower.

THE SHARED CHALLENGE

Every part of the coffee community is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, from furloughed baristas to frontline grocery and delivery workers to the farming communities where coffee is grown. Across the industry, we are all working to adapt to rapidly changing government responses, community health concerns, and many other significant challenges.

Coffee farming supports the livelihoods of an estimated 125 million people around the world and 1.7 million American workers. Behind every one of those people is a family and community. Well before the pandemic, coffee farmers were facing serious challenges ranging from building resilience in the face of a changing climate to struggling to achieve the profitability necessary for sustainable livelihoods.

The pandemic also exacerbates economic challenges and inequality. As the UN recently highlighted:

“…The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic…Compounded economic impacts are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty.”  

THE OPPORTUNITY AHEAD

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Americans and consumers around the world have prioritized coffee as a daily staple during these uncertain times. Continuing this strong demand is a key to the economic survival of our favorite stores and brands. What is less well known is that strong demand for coffee is also critical to support coffee farming communities, including members of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), as they also work to weather the pandemic. 

“Coffee holds this world together when all else fails”

— Leslie Nanne, IWCA Guatemala as shared in the IWCA Insights Report

What’s more, drinking coffee provides health benefits. It is associated with reduced risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.  Particularly relevant to current times, a recent review by Dr. Alan Leviton of Harvard Medical School notes that drinking coffee may reduce the risk of depression by up to one-third.

So, as we join the United Nations in marking the International Day of Families, to honor the strength and resilience of all families, from those who work tirelessly to grow the best beans possible to those who count on a daily cup to start their day. Wherever this message finds you, as you pour your next cup, know that you are connected, and empowered, through coffee.

Thank you from the National Coffee Association and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.

ABOUT THE NCA

The National Coffee Association of U.S.A., Inc. (NCA), established in 1911, is the leading trade organization for the coffee industry in the United States. The NCA is the only trade association that serves all segments of the U.S. coffee industry, including traditional and specialty companies. A majority of NCA membership, which accounts for over 90% of U.S. coffee commerce, comprises small and mid-sized companies and includes growers, roasters, retailers, importer/exporters, wholesaler/suppliers, and allied industry businesses. Please visit ncausa.org to learn more.

ABOUT THE IWCA

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) is a global network of organizations united by the mission to empower women in the international coffee community to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives; and to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry.We represent more than 25 countries, the majority of which are coffee growing. Together, we achieve empowerment through leadership development, partnership, and amplified market visibility. www.womenincoffee.org.

Drink Coffee, Be Happy: Coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed

New research out of Harvard Medical School shows coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed than non-drinkers.


“Don’t talk to me till I’ve had my morning coffee.”

We’ve all heard that cliché before – but a new review conducted by Dr. Alan Leviton, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, of existing, independent research, suggests that coffee doesn’t just give you a much-needed jolt in the morning — it may actually help you stave off clinical depression.

In the times we find ourselves living in, it’s no surprise that reports of anxiety and depression are on the rise. Between the constant barrage of negative news headlines and very real concerns over the health and well-being of our loved ones, the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t exactly lend itself to good cheer and contentment. National Mental Health Month couldn’t have come soon enough. 

But America’s favorite beverage could help with that. The results of Dr. Leviton’s independent research shows that coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed than non-drinkers – and that the more coffee you drink, the less likely you are to be depressed, with the benefits peaking right around 13 oz. each day. That’s slightly more than your go-to Tall coffee from Starbucks.

Let thy morning coffee be thy medicine.  

The results don’t just lend credence to the “don’t talk to me till I’ve had my morning coffee” quip — they also carry profound implications for how we understand coffee’s role in our mental health.

According to Dr. Leviton, there are several factors that could be contributing to coffee’s mood-boosting effects. For example, coffee is known to be rich in antioxidants. Depressed people tend to have higher levels of stress-related oxidants in the body and are more likely than others to have diets low in antioxidants – attributable, at least in part, to lower coffee consumption. The antioxidants found in coffee may very well help offset that deficiency.

Coffee also has anti-inflammatory properties, some of which have been directly linked to improved mood. Depression and suicidal ideation are both correlated with higher levels of inflammation, research shows, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some of the anti-depression effects of coffee are due to its anti-inflammation effects.

And then there’s caffeine. One might assume it’s the stimulation caffeine provides that brightens one’s mood, but a compound in the blood called adenosine is a more likely explanation. The more caffeine one consumes, the higher the concentration of adenosine in the blood. Depressed people tend to have lower concentrations of adenosine than non-depressed people – and one study found that the more severe the depression, the lower the concentration of adenosine. As if we needed another reason to skip the decaf (kidding, of course…).

Dr. Leviton says some of coffee’s mood-boosting effects are present right there in the mug, but other positive effects of coffee are only unlocked as coffee interacts with our bodies[W4] . You may have heard of probiotics before – they’re those little pearls you can buy at the pharmacy that promote a healthy gut microbiome. But there’s also prebiotics and postbiotics, which, like probiotics, provide health benefits once properly processed. The prebiotics found in brewed coffee, for example, are readily metabolized by organisms in the gut. This process transforms them into short chain fatty acids or other metabolites, including brain-penetrating neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA, and dopamine – the four major regulators of our mood.

Dr. Leviton’s study goes into much greater detail, and is a worthwhile read for the curious. His findings are welcome news for anyone seeking a little comfort in these uncertain, turbulent times — so burr up those beans, fluff those filters, and put a fresh pot on – trust the research, it’ll make you feel better.

Read Dr. Leviton’s research here.

Help Set the Global Coffee Research Agenda

Take the survey ⇀

Agricultural research and development (R&D) are critical for securing the future of coffee. World Coffee Research has created a global survey on agricultural research priorities, designed with input from coffee industry organizations that are also helping distribute the survey to their members to ensure as much participation as possible. Your participation is critical for helping shape global coffee agriculture R&D priorities, ensuring that the global research agenda supports the needs of the industry, drives increased sustainability and prosperity, and makes coffee better. 

The survey questions focus on agricultural issues in coffee, the supply of coffee, the qualities of green/roasted coffee, and how they impact business. The survey takes between 5 and 10 minutes to complete.

The survey is completely anonymous—no information is collected that could be used to identify you personally or the organization you work for.  Results will be used to inform the development of a five-year R&D strategy for WCR; anonymous aggregated survey results may be incorporated into the public strategy document. Anonymous data may also be shared with industry associations involved in the survey design.

Take the survey ⇀

What’s Next for Coffee Prices in 2020?

By Bill (William) Murray, President & CEO, National Coffee Association

After hitting historic lows in mid-2019, coffee prices began to rebound in November of 2019, an upward slope that continued through the end of December 2019.  Dramatic world events in early January 2020 have already caused spikes in commodity markets – including in the price of oil – that could drive coffee prices up further. 

And so the question on everyone’s mind is whether this upward price trend will continue. 

We can’t predict future coffee prices – but here’s what we do know:

Last year’s historically low coffee prices put unprecedented pressure on some of the 25 million farmers who grow coffee.  This, in turn, led to an unprecedented industry-wide conversation about the impact of low coffee prices on farmers.   

Initially these conversations were simplistic, in today’s click-bait style – broad, black-and-white portrayals of a supply chain populated with villains and innocents, with equally simplistic solutions that could easily cure all ills.

But as the conversation continued, it became apparent that the truth is more complex – just as coffee itself is a complex beverage. 

The reality is that many of the challenges facing coffee farmers are not unique to coffee. Price volatility, poor infrastructure at home, a lack of information, and other factors are the same issues facing small-scale famers in all agricultural sectors.

And while there are common elements bedeviling all small-scale farmers, there is no simple, appealing, one-size-fits all “solution” for helping coffee farmers improve their lot.

This is why it is crucial – especially if coffee prices continue to rise – that we continue to work together as an industry to support farmers.  If you want to be part of the solution, here are four things you can do now:

Understand the Facts.  Current low prices are due to an oversupply of coffee, with other factors, such as the natural, cyclical nature of the market, and foreign currency fluctuations, further challenging farmers.   Devising solutions starts with accurately identifying the challenges.

It Takes a Village.  Know that solutions involve many hands – from international organizations such as the United Nations, to the governments of coffee-growing countries, NGOs, corporations, and even coffee drinkers who send a signal about their values and what they are willing to pay for every time they buy a cup of coffee.  A local – or national – dimension to helping farmers is especially important, as communities must shape programs designed to meet their needs.

A great place to start for a better understanding of the challenges and solutions is the International Coffee Organization’s 2019 “Coffee Development Report.” This report’s 10 page “Overview” provides a rich, deeply researched perspective on today’s market with a focus on development.

What else?

Take Action.  Join us.  Work on your own, through your company, and with others to do what you can now and make a commitment that will persist regardless of price levels.  Hundreds of companies and organizations are supporting program work and buying practices that support farmers.  NGO programs, such as Conservation International’s Sustainable Coffee Challenge, are convening companies to collaborate and directly help farmers — as is the Global Coffee Platform.  More immediately, there are charities that are working on a day-to-day basis to help farming communities in need, like the Coffee Trust.

And finally…

Drink More Coffee.  Market prices were driven down by an oversupply of coffee, and drinking more coffee – to help lap up the surplus – not only helps farmers, but can bring health benefits.

In the meantime, the NCA will continue our work, together with others — for change will not come quickly or easily.  We’ve been supporting, sponsoring, and participating in the ICO’s work;  We’ve partnered with the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, including creating resources to help improve labor practices at origin; and we’ve identified charities through our Showcase and Award Program that we believe are worthy of your support.

Where are coffee prices going in 2020? 

Up or down, one thing is for certain: there won’t be any coffee without farmers to whom we are all connected.

NCA Member Spotlight: Driftaway Coffee

Company: Driftaway Coffee
Location: Brooklyn, NY
NCA Member Since: 2019
Website: driftaway.coffee
Facebook: facebook.com/driftawaycoffee
Twitter: twitter.com/driftawaycoffee
Instagram: instagram.com/driftawaycoffee

What does Driftaway Coffee do?

We are a direct-to-consumer coffee roaster, offering personalized subscriptions in an environmentally and socially conscious manner.

What drives your passion for this industry?

We started this company out of an urge to create. Create something we were passionate about. Something we could be proud of. And for our need for and interest in great coffee.

Why did you become a member of the National Coffee Association (NCA)?

I am interested in networking with other members and learning from everyone.

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Is Coffee Good for You? Our Coffee Doctor Weighs In

Yes, coffee is good for you. But did you know you that more of it can be better? Our resident Coffee Doctor, Mark Corey, PhD, recently traveled to Montréal, Canada for the East Coast Coffee Madness festival, where he spoke about how coffee’s not only good for the drinker, but good for the people who grow it, too.  Read on for a window into coffee madness:


East Coast Coffee Madness (ECCM) (Festival du Café de Montréal) was held on October 19-20th, 2019 in Québec, Canada, at the gorgeous Montréal Science Center.  Organized by Jonathan Gabbay and Nathalie Gabbay of RGC Coffee, the event brought together professionals young and old from every corner of the coffee industry – from baristas to roasters to purveyors of the finest self-contained, bicycle-powered espresso carts. (Really.)

Dozens of exhibitors showcased their artisanal craftmanship and expert ability to source, roast, and prepare coffee to perfection.  But I wasn’t just in Montréal to sample some of the finest single-origin coffees in the world (though that was a nice perk – Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, anyone? I had a mission: to take the stage and help spread the word about the surprising — and under-reported — health benefits of coffee.

Raising the Floor                                                  

The theme of the keynote presentations was “Raising the Floor” of coffee prices. A diverse roster of experts offered compelling insights into how we can address this complex issue for which there is no magic bullet. Phyllis Johnson of BD Imports, former Board Member of the NCA, spoke about the need to elevate the voices of women and minorities in coffee. By having their voices heard and increasing awareness of their contributions to the value chain, she said, we can help build stronger coffee-growing communities – in a sense, ‘raising the floor’ at the ground level.  

As we all remember from Econ 101, supply and demand dictates that when there is an oversupply of a something, market prices tend to fall. This is the situation we find ourselves in with coffee. Before coffee prices reached their current low, farmers were already struggling to stay above the farmgate value, or break-even cost of production — so asking them to limit production at the expense of their own livelihoods is not a viable solution. Instead, we should be working to increase consumption – and one way to do this is to spread awareness of the health benefits of coffee.  This was the focus of my address.

Coffee is Good For You — and More is Better

As a food scientist, I’ve spent much of my career evaluating the scientific consensus and the latest research to make sure coffee is safely produced and healthy to consume. The data is clear on coffee: It’s healthy, and the greatest benefits may be derived by drinking 2-4 cups per day (1).  The problem is, most consumers don’t know that coffee is good for you — let alone that more is better. In fact, the 2018 National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT) Breakout Report on Coffee and Health reported that 69% of consumers were unaware of the potential health benefits of coffee. To capitalize on this massive pool of consumers who could help balance out the coffee oversupply, my presentation highlighted the possible benefits of coffee consumption, such as how coffee drinkers:

  • Live longer than non-coffee drinkers (1),
  • Are LESS likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-coffee drinkers (2),
  • May benefit from liver-protective effects (3),
  • May experience protection from depression (4),
  • May derive other potential health benefits (5).

It was frankly a lot of information for anyone to absorb in a short period of time, but I’m hopeful that by interpreting the data and presenting it in an informal, conversational way, coffee pros are better equipped to share with their customers that they need not feel guilty about that extra cup of joe.

Several thousand years ago, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”  I think we can all drink to that!   

Cheers,

Mark Corey, PhD, Director of Scientific Affairs at the NCA. 

References:

East Coast Coffee Madness – https://www.eccoffeemadness.com/

Supply and demand – https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newSTR_69.htm

Farmgate price –  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farm_gate_value

69% – National Coffee Drinking Trends Breakout Report: Coffee and health. 2018.  http://www.ncausa.org/Industry-Resources/Market-Research/Consumer-Insight-Reports

(1) Kim Y, Je Y, Giovannucci E.  Coffee consumption and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a meta-analysis by potential modifiers Eur J Epidemiol. 2019 Aug; 34(8): 731-752.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31055709

(2) Carlström M, Larsson SC. Coffee consumption and reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes: a systematic review with meta-analysis.  Nutr Rev. 2018 Jun 1; 76(6): 395-417.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29590460

NCA Next Generation Council Meets at SCTA Dinner in Switzerland

NCA Next Gen Council at the SCTA Conference and Dinner, Basel, Switzerland, October 10, 2019

2019 marked the 10th year of the annual SCTA Conference and Dinner located in Basel, Switzerland.  For the second year in a row, the NCA Next Gen Council was invited to participate in the event, a proposal which was once again graciously accepted.  In addition to the elegance of the dinner itself, our Council members were able to attend an information session and networking hour dedicated exclusively to Next Gen members. 

The initiative was led by Guillaume Zbinden, who has been at the forefront of the effort of the SCTA to emulate the NCA’s Next Gen platform.  Guillaume’s keynote speech was followed by a thorough review by Michael von Luehrte of the activities of both the SCTA Next Gen Council, but also those of the contingent of Next Gen Members throughout countries of origin. 

And to round out the conference section of the Next Gen session, attendees were able to see ‘into the future’ with remarks by Dean Sanders and a panel led by Susana Robledo. 

The event was a great success and the growth of the Next Gen “movement” was apparent! 

Plant Trees. Save Coffee.

Help Build Stronger Coffee Communities

By Bambi Semroc, Vice President, Sustainable Markets and Strategy for Conservation International and leader of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge


Trees get old. They get sick. They die. And it’s up to us to replant them.

I grew up alongside two beautiful, mature and statuesque maple trees in the back yard. My parents saved those trees when they built our house. Dad said you don’t cut down old trees because it takes too long to grow another one. I watched showers of helicopter seeds fall in the spring. I raked their leaves and jumped in huge piles every fall with my brother. We mulched and planted flowers around them. Those trees are still standing, but my dad is not. I have long-since moved away and so has my brother. My mom now cares for those trees on her own. Last month she called with the sad news that she has to remove one because it is dying. I can’t imagine that tree not being there, and I wonder what tree we will plant to replace it.

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