NCA Next Gen Interview with The Partnership for Gender Equity

Kimberly Easson

Danielle Wood, NCA Next Genner and Social Impact Manager at Inspire Brands, recently sat down with Kimberly Easson, founder and CEO of The Partnership for Gender Equity, for a discussion on her organization’s mission and the issues facing women in coffee. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Unfortunately, gender gaps and inequities are prevalent in coffee-growing regions around the world. While men traditionally transport and sell the coffee, women are frequently responsible for the work affecting coffee quality and yields. Despite their crucial role in the coffee growing process, women are often excluded from decision-making and denied access to critical resources necessary for their success.  

That’s where the Partnership for Gender Equity (PGE) comes in.

Danielle Wood: What is the Partnership for Gender Equity, and what does it stand for?

Kimberly Easson: PGE believes that gender equity is the foundation for healthy families, communities and a sustainable supply chain. PGE’s mission is to shine the spotlight on the importance of gender equity and work across coffee and cocoa sectors to embed approaches to drive transformative change. Recognizing that farming women and their families are overburdened and underappreciated, PGE wants to make a difference in their lives. Gender Equity is about everyone, not just women and PGE’s unique approach focuses on the entire family structu

DW: How did you come up with the idea for PGE?

KE: I’ve been working in coffee for 30 years. I started by coincidence when I lived in Costa Rica, working with Café Britt and then never wanted to leave. My focus has always been on building stronger relationships along the supply chain – in particular through my work with FairTrade and the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI). At CQI, I helped to expand the partnership base and financial resources of the organization. I realized they lacked a strategic approach to gender in their funding proposals – a growing requirement of donors – and this became the foundation for setting up PGE. I wanted CQI’s development work be inclusive of gender equity and recognized the opportunity to foster a greater partnership in the industry to drive change. I spearheaded the initial research in 2015 for the industry to use as a helpful resource to better understand why gender equity was important. Pretty quickly, we realized that the opportunity for PGE was starting to grow beyond the scope of CQI and so we agreed to “spin off” PGE as a separate non-profit organization, which happened officially in April 2019.

DW: Can you speak to some of the challenges associated with gender equity in coffee?

KE: Gender Equity is a complex topic, but thankfully now there is more awareness. It is a significant human rights, social justice and sustainability issue. Companies see the importance but do not know what to do, which makes it difficult for them to take action. There is a lack of data and no real clarity about what women do in the supply chain. Very few countries are collecting sex-disaggregated data about the roles of women in coffee. The embedded culture of coffee farming was set up to be male-dominated and driven, yet we know women do a significant portion of the labor. To support the success of farming families and communities, and the sector as whole to be more resilient, we need to shine light on farming as a family business and value the work of men and women equally.

DW: What is something about women in coffee that you want more people to know?

KE: The coffee supply chain is gender biased. PGE is focusing on producing countries in origin but up and down the supply chain, bias exists. Increased gender equity means families work more as a team. Better communication and working in this different way can improve income and the overall wellbeing of a family. There are also many benefits for men in achieving greater gender equity. For example, there is a lot of pressure on men to bear all financial responsibility for the household. This burden can be reduced when both men and women have the opportunity to earn income, and share decision-making about how to best spend that money to meet family needs.

DW: Can you speak to some of the projects you’ve been working on like the Virtual Learning Journey and the Gender Equity Index?

KE: The Virtual Learning Journey is a way for companies to directly engage with what’s happening in their supply chain. It is a 10-week online series that brings together men and women from different farmer organizations to explore perspectives and better understand gender equity. Their organizations take a diagnostic and receive a report from PGE that serves as a snapshot of their current performance on gender equity. As a result, producer organizations are able to understand the general need for gender equity and create a roadmap of where they’d like to go.

This road map highlights opportunities where industry can invest directly to support their efforts – such as investing in a masculinities training, or improving a gender policy. The resulting conversations about gender equity improve understanding of the issue and strengthen the relationships with buyers. This gives companies a chance to invest in opportunities to advance gender equity. The voice of the roaster is key in driving change,  since farmer organizations will take action on an issue if they know it is important to roasters.

The Gender Equity Index (GEI) is the evolution of the first diagnostic tool created for farmer organizations. The work with farmer organizations is critical, yet we realized that if we want to really have a transformative impact in the global sector, we need to work with different levels of the supply chain. This tool is used to advise extension and advisory service providers – including trading companies, development organizations, and producing country extension agencies – about their performance on gender equity. We provide recommendations and work with these companies to create a gender equity development plan to ensure their services are not gender biased – with the goal that every dollar invested in coffee is invested in a way that is gender equitable, and ultimately reaches, benefits and empowers women.

Industry members recognize that extension services broadly have room for improvement. The GEI supports service providers to improve their services by enabling them to better understand the needs and opportunities of their target beneficiaries / clients – both women and men. With greater clarity about the needs and issues that impact their clients, they can better target services to respond to those needs. As a result the overall benefit and impact of those services improves. This also corresponds to higher return on investment of those services.


To learn more about PGE’s work, visit https://www.genderincoffee.org/.

Logistically Speaking Part 2: Port of Virginia, Not Just Any Port in the Storm

By: Nora Johnson, Commodities Manager at Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA and NCA Next Gen Communications Committee Chair


News from ports around the world has taken the globe by storm over the past 18 months – from record-breaking cargo volumes to record-breaking counts of ships at berth, everywhere you turn you hear shipping-related news. Despite these headlines, how familiar are you with port operations and the many roles and responsibilities that come with it?

Nora Johnson, Next Gen Council Member and Commodities Manager at Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA, had the opportunity to speak with Joe Harris, Vice President and Spokesman for The Port of Virginia®. Read on to learn about how the Port of Virginia, along with so many other ports around the world, has adapted and leaned into this new phase of logistics and shipping.  

The interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity with approval from the interviewee.

Shipping containers at the Port of Virginia

Nora Johnson, NCA Next Gen: Can you share some history on the Port of Virginia? How did the Port get to where it is today?

Joe: Back in the ‘60s, all of the individual terminals in our harbor at that time – Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Newport News Marine Terminal, and Norfolk International Terminals – were owned and operated by their respective cities; they were competitors to each other. In addition to competing for business, they would go up to Richmond (Virginia) and compete for money.

In the mid-to-late ‘70s, the Governor of Virginia suggested that we look to unify the ports under a common flag in order to leverage them as a whole as opposed to utilizing them as individual pieces. He was successful in getting that done – the state bought the respective terminals from the different cities and unified them under the Virginia Port Authority flag with Virginia International Terminals (VIT) acting as the operator for all the terminals. Then, in 2010, we leased the Richmond Marine Terminal, and 2 years later we leased the Virginia International Gateway (VIG).

We, Virginia International Terminals, now own and operate Norfolk International Terminals, Newport News Marine Terminal, Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Virginia Inland Port, and Hampton Roads Chassis Pool, and we lease Virginia International Gateway and Richmond Marine Terminal.

This really creates a collaborative atmosphere. By owning and operating all the terminals, we can share information and solve problems quickly and with ease, as we do not have any other competing economic interests that we have to satisfy. We call it the “Virginia Model,” and right now, it is yielding significant positive results for us.

Port of Virginia’s terminals.

Nora: I had never really considered the competing ownership interests and how that could impact port operations.

Joe: The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the biggest ports in our nation. In that harbor, there are 13 or 14 terminals that are each owned and operated by different entities. While they are neighbors, they are competitors too. Contractually, there are obligations with different shippers, motor carriers, and railroads. At LA/Long Beach, to bring cargo that was contracted by and intended for one terminal into a neighboring terminal and to sort out all those pieces quickly and economically could be nearly impossible.

The LA/Long Beach situation is no single entity’s fault; LA/Long Beach handles around 10 million units in one year. All of the East Coast ports combined can only handle about 8.5 million units. That’s how big and significant LA/Long Beach is.

Nora: The Port of Virginia has been an active and dedicated supporter of Virginia’s efforts to become the “Caffeine Capital.” Can you elaborate on the Port’s role in this endeavor and its overall involvement within the coffee industry?

Joe: Coffee had been coming into Virginia for years, when suddenly, we saw this cluster growing. We got behind it as best that we could bringing in the warehouses, getting the ICE (Intercontinental Exchange) designation, and really nurturing the growth of the coffee industry.

What happened was rather organic and outside of our control. One roaster saw another roaster doing well and saw available land and labor and said, “Oh, wow! You all are only 20 miles from a port? This must be a good place.” This reaction started the “it must be good over there effect” and it has by and large stuck, even with movement within the industry. It has been a good piece of business for us, and it had led to good relationships that we are always happy to support however we can.

From a larger perspective, much of the cargo that comes into New York stays in the New York area to serve that population. Aside from the coffee business here in Suffolk, Virginia, so much of our cargo goes outside of Virginia so it is a different dynamic in terms of the market. We say that we serve the nation’s heartland: Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Dayton, Louisville, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and St. Louis, among other cities.

Nora: How has COVID impacted the Port of Virginia? Would you walk us through the different “phases” of COVID since March 2020 through today and how each phase impacted the Port differently? 

Joe: When COVID was at its peak, we saw cargo volumes fall off like we could never have forecasted; manufacturing and shipping dried up. It’s important to note that the Port of Virginia never shut down, never laid off a person, and never cut any benefits. We kept working, but we just weren’t moving as much cargo.

Then, vaccines began to roll out and some confidence returned. Last September, we saw volumes go from a little bit of upwards growth to shooting steeply up and they have not since come back down. The record volumes continue. Some of this volume is “catch-up cargo” that was ordered during the COVID slump and never made it ashore originally, and another portion of the volume is related to cargo that was ordered by many of the companies and retailers who did not want to get caught short again. In turn, they bought high volumes and stuck it in their warehouses. As we speak today, we are in the thick of moving retail cargo for the holiday season. You have a lot of different needs piling on top of each other which is creating a lot of cargo that is moving towards the United States.

Nora: What did the Port of Virginia do to accommodate these record volumes? Staffing and operations all had to change, right?

It did not – and it’s really a matter of timing! The first summer after COVID hit, we had just finished up an $800 million expansion, renovation, and modernization of our two primary container terminals – Virginia International Gateway and Norfolk International Terminals. The initial slow down at the start of COVID allowed us to get our hands on this new “animal” that we had; then, when the volume spiked up, all of that infrastructure, investment, and training really paid off. The modernization, bringing in 21st century technology, and having a truly talented and seasoned operations team made a meaningful difference. The terminal is only as good as the people running it. In addition to that, we have great labor relations with our union. The union never took a day off, and to this day they are out there hustling. The men and women show up night and day, rain or shine, hot or cold, and they go to work and make it happen. That is critical! All of these factors are really working in our favor right now. Every day we are looking at our operation, trying to tweak it and figure out where we can be a little more efficient, a little more productive, and always be safe. We look at what we can do tomorrow, next week, and even next month. Since we own our terminals, we can really look at things holistically – we can say, “We are doing really well over there, so how can we translate that effort and make it happen over here?”

Regional map showing the strategic location of the Port of Virginia

Nora: Would you say that being agile is critical for the Port right now?

Joe: Yes – and “agile” is a word that we are using often right now. We can see a challenge or a problem, gather around the table, and truly have an answer within a couple of hours and then begin implementing the solution that afternoon or the next morning. Not all ports can do that.

Nora: Do you talk and communicate with other ports regularly?

Joe: Everyone is willing to put in a collaborative effort, but it is less about what a different port is doing to solve a specific problem, but more so about understanding volumes and planning. For For instance, if we know that a ship is going to be arriving in Georgia and that it is already off schedule, we will call Georgia and see how long it’s going to be in port there so that we can get all of that data into our system and be better prepared.

Nora: Wow. It’s hard to imagine how this will all come to an end!

Joe: It’s going to take patience and a lot of hard work, but it will end. It takes time for any amount of capital to translate into productivity. That’s nobody’s fault – that’s just how it is – building, marketing, integration; it is a conundrum, but there is an end.

Nora: How do these record volume levels and the experiences of the past year impact future plans for the Port of Virginia?

The plans that we have are not in response to what we are seeing today, but the timing is good, and it will benefit us if we ever go through another period like this. Right now, we are investing $350 million in deepening the channels that support the Port of Virginia. Once that is completed in 2024, our channels in the harbor will be 55 feet deep, the ocean approaches will be 56 and 59 feet deep, and the channels will be wider. These wider, deeper channels will allow the big ships to pass – we will have two-way traffic of the biggest ships that are currently afloat. We will be able to hang the flag of the deepest port on the US East Coast!

Our future plans don’t stop there… This winter, we will begin to redevelop the railroad operation at Norfolk International Terminals; we are going to double the rail capacity there. We will also be renovating the North Side of Norfolk International Terminals. We intend to make improvements to expand our capacity up at Virginia Inland Port while also looking to add in more barge service at Richmond Marine Terminal. We are marketing Portsmouth Marine Terminal as a multi-use facility, bringing in tenants that are going to serve the offshore wind industry – we are going to help to grow an entirely new industry.

We are continually spending and renovating – it is a never-ending cycle of investment and reinvestment, and you must do that to stay competitive and relevant.

Nora: With bottlenecks and shipping delays now making news headlines and increasing consumer awareness, are there any other challenges that aren’t being seen by the “common eye” or that aren’t being widely discussed that the Port has had to overcome?

Joe: What many don’t understand is that there are so many pieces involved within the shipping and logistics supply chain that all must work well together in order to prevent any backup.

One of the issues that the Port of Virginia is keeping a close eye on is the availability of chassis. A chassis is the wheel set that a truck driver uses that the container gets put on top of. We own and operate about 16,000 chassis. Typically, a truck driver comes in and rents a chassis, normally for 2-3 days, and does all the business that they can over that time and then they return it. Currently, we are seeing chassis on the road for 12 days at a time! Warehouses are packed, and with labor shortages at warehouses, the containers don’t get unloaded as quickly and the chassis don’t get returned as quickly. That means that we don’t have as many of those units coming back to the pool so that the next driver can get one. We are trying to add chassis to our fleet, but a lot of the steel for chassis is cut in China and must be shipped to the US, and then they must be assembled, so at times, we are challenged by the supply chain too.

I do always go back to the “Virginia Model” that I mentioned before. Imagine that we say, “We need more chassis, what can we do?” Well, we might open the chassis yard for returns all day on a Saturday. We don’t have to figure out how to do that – we own the chassis yard and the chassis. It is as easy as putting the message out to the trade saying, “Open on Saturday, please bring back available chassis.”

Nora: Earlier in the year, all eyes were on the Suez Canal and the obstruction caused by the Ever Given. Did this have any impact – direct or indirect – on the Port of Virginia?

Joe: We saw a couple of delayed vessels, so yes, it had an impact, but it didn’t really disrupt our way of doing business. We had 6 or 8 ships that were delayed, but they were delayed to the point that at least we knew where they were and that they would be here on this date so we could arrange our schedules to accommodate them.

Nora: It seems like that is a major point that you just made there; you knew what and where the issue was with the Suez Canal, whereas today, all of the delays are interconnected and span across different ports that are having unknown interruptions making schedules unpredictable. Would that be a fair distinction, anticipated versus unanticipated delays and disruptions?

Joe: Yes – I read recently that only 18% of the world’s container fleet is on time. The remaining 82% is off schedule. To every port, that presents a real issue. In the larger sense, trade likes predictability and right now it is very unpredictable. You are constantly tracking vessels and trying to predict ETAs. It is a real challenge for planning. We are very fortunate that we have been able to plan and accommodate both ships that are on and off schedule without having to put ships out to anchor to wait.

Nora: Has the Port of Virginia had any situations like that throughout this time, with ships at anchor waiting for availability to unload?

Joe: No, we have not. We have had instances where we contact ships and ask them to slow their speed a bit. If we have vessels on berth and know that there isn’t going to be a slot for a ship that is steaming down to us, we may ask them to pull their throttle back some so that they do not have to anchor and wait. The captains and ship owners would much rather slow down than anchor and wait as well.

Nora: The ultimate question… and one to which there may not be answer! What do you see in the future for 2022 in terms of the Port of Virginia and global shipping and logistics?

Joe: Cargo owners are realizing that they must be more diverse in their supply chains. So that might mean moving 1/3 of cargo to the West Coast, 1/3 to the Gulf Coast, and 1/3 to the East Coast. Our goal is to keep any new cargo with us – we call it “sticky” cargo. Regardless of any disruption or natural disaster on any one of those coasts, you would then still have cargo coming in. This kind of supply chain diversification would allow the cargo owner to keep that cargo moving.

2022 will probably be as busy as 2021, at least for the first half of the year. As an industry, we are trying to catch up while running full speed ahead. We are not forecasting a slowdown for next year. In the bigger picture, the public will need to be patient and understand that what the supply chain is faced with today is not anyone’s fault nor is it any one industry’s fault. It is not political, there is not one node along the supply chain that is holding something up. It is truly the perfect storm, and there is a whole lot of effort being put into resolving it. It will correct, but it will just take some time.

Nora: What is one thing about the Port of Virginia (or about Ports in general) that you wish more people knew?

Joe: People don’t always recognize the role that ports play in the American economy. 20 years ago, I sat with our then port-director at lunch and he explained that all you really need to know about shipping is that if your house was built after the 1980s, seven eighths of what is in it and seven eights of what it is made of came in on a container ship. The port industry is truly critical to the economy with the amount of goods that come in on container ships.


Addendum: One positive takeaway from the shipping and logistics challenges and opportunities of the past 18 months are the lessons learned. After speaking with Joe Harris and hearing about these times from the eyes of the Port of Virginia, I can personally attest to the value that exists in learning from the experiences of those in different areas of the supply chain.

In sharing these stories and experiences through the Logistically Speaking series, and on behalf of the National Coffee Association Next Gen Council, we hope that you too may benefit from hearing about the different lessons learned and experiences had across the supply chain.

Many thanks to Joe Harris and the Port of Virginia for their participation in Logistically Speaking: Part 2!

Origin Spotlight – Our Coffees (Brazil)

By Alma Likic, Marketing Manager, PLITEK and NCA Next Gen member

Alma Likic, Marketing Manager at PLITEK and NCA Next Gen member, interviewed Nathalia Martins Azzi, a second-generation coffee grower and exporter at Our Coffees, for a discussion about the history of the company and the current coffee growing situation Brazil. 

First, a little history about Brazilian coffee:

Brazil has been the world’s largest coffee grower and producer for more than 150 years. The first coffee bush in Brazil was planted by Lieutenant Francisco de Melo Palheta in 1727. According to the legend, the Portuguese were looking for a cut of the coffee market but could not obtain seeds from bordering French Guiana, due to the governor’s unwillingness to export the seeds. Lieutenant Palheta was sent to French Guiana on a diplomatic mission to resolve a border dispute when he seduced the Guianese’s governor’s wife who secretly gave him a bouquet spiked with seeds which he was able to smuggle across the border. Coffee was then spread from northern Brazil to the mountainous southeastern states where it thrived because of the temperature, heavy rainfall, and a distinctive dry season which provided optimum conditions for its growth.

Brazil’s 7,844,000,000 pounds of coffee grown each year (80% of which is arabica) make up 30% of the world’s supply, but an astounding third stays in the country. This does not come as a surprise as 98% of Brazilian households drink coffee.

A coffee powerhouse with incredibly diverse coffee options from basic commodity coffee to the world-stunning specialty coffee offers different varieties, some natural, some hybrid, some cultivated in a lab—designed for specific climate conditions including Mundo Novo, Yellow Bourbon, Caturra and Catuai.

Brazilian coffee is processed by the wet (washed), dry (natural), semi-washed (pulped natural), and recently emerged re-passed (raisins) methods. Most coffee beans are still processed with dry method since Brazil is one of the few countries in the world that has the appropriate weather to do so successfully.

Our Coffees “Coffee Lab”

Wet (washed): This process is used to remove the four layers surrounding the coffee bean. It is done in small portions. The coffee beans using this method are cleaner, vibrant, and fruitier.

Dry (natural): The coffee cherries are placed in the water, and those floating are removed. The remaining coffee cherries are dried in concrete slabs. The coffee beans in this process are heavy-bodied, sweet, smooth, and complex.

Semi-washed (Pulped natural): This method involves pulping the coffee but skipping the fermentation phase to remove the skin. Thus, the coffee beans in this method gain the characteristics of coffee beans, which had undergone the dry and wet processes.

Re-passed (raisins). In this process, the coffee cherry floaters –(typically coffee beans that have dried on the tree)- float to the surface and are then discarded from the rest. The coffee beans in this method are much sweeter than the traditional pulped coffee.

  • Flavor: Complex, earth, spice, sweet, gentle acidity, lime, wine, floral
  • Processing: Natural, Pulp Natural, Honey, Washed
  • Main Growing Regions: Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, São Paulo, Bahia
  • Harvest: April to September

Tell us about family history / farm?

José Maria comes from a deep-rooted history of coffee tradition. As a boy, his grandfather had a small coffee farm where his father and uncles used to work. José has many great memories of picking cherries with his family and playing around the coffee trees with his grandfather. In pursuit of a better life, at the age of seventeen, José Maria moved to the city of Belo Horizonte. However, after a few years, Jose decided to carry on family tradition of growing coffee, moved back to Campos Altos, and bought a farm in 2008. The company started exporting coffee in 2013. In order to offer good quality coffee and allow traceability, the business focused on implementing vertically integrated business model. Today, aside from growing coffee, the company offers wet milling process, dry milling process, warehousing, exporting, importing in other countries and wholesalers around the world.  

Our Coffees Farm

– Can you take us through the journey from cup to seed? What makes Brazilian coffee unique/special?

Brazilian Coffee is unique because of its quality. It is a result of continuous technological advances that help producers grow good quality coffee. Post-harvest process plays an essential role. We invest in technology and new methods including experimental fermentations, taking care of the beans in the drying process and then resting it. This ensures good quality and makes all the difference in the process. Having great varieties is important, but a complex post-harvest process takes it to the next level of quality.

Our Coffees Farm

– What is the socio-economic situation in Brazil? How is the coffee growing and exporting affected?

The Brazil socio-economic situation is complex. The country has a big source of economic production such as agriculture, mining, food production, meat production, manufacturing, and industrial goods exporting. Coffee growing has been affected by the higher prices of fuel, cost of farming machinery and supplies, and due to worker equity rules, which we take very seriously. For the past 5 years, Brazil has experienced a trade surplus making it hard to get space and availability on vessels to export.

– What is the impact of Covid on coffee growers and exporters?

Covid 19 greatly impacted the coffee industry and our customers felt completely lost with no expectation of the future. Coffee shops closed, news about lockdowns changed daily, restriction implemented, and economic reopening was unclear. As a result, our customers stopped buying green coffee, causing many coffee growers and exporters cashflow problems.

-Tell us about your experience with NCA.

NCA meetings are always great, we can meet everyone from the industry, and it is very helpful to talk about the market. NCA is a reliable source of information that helps us make better decisions about our business.

-What would be your advice to new Next Gen members?

Participate in the events, participate in seminars, webinars and courses. Knowledge and networking make a great difference in the coffee business. The coffee industry is all about relationship building.

Cause for Celebration: A Review of Coffee Day 2021

By Nora Johnson, NCA Next Gen Communications Committee Chair and Commodities Manager at Massimo Zanetti Beverages USA.

Although every day is “Coffee Day” for those of us working within the coffee supply chain, on September 29th and October 1st, the rest of the population joins in to celebrate National Coffee Day (for the United States) and International Coffee Day, respectively.

If you are like me and wondering who actually declared a given day “International Coffee Day,” wonder no longer! With the inaugural celebration having been held on October 1, 2015, International Coffee Day was officially declared by the International Coffee Organization (ICO) as a day of “celebration of the coffee sector’s diversity, quality, and passion… an opportunity for coffee lovers to share their love of the beverage and support the millions of farmers whose livelihoods depend on the aromatic crop.” Many individual nations had been celebrating their own National Coffee Day for several years prior. Japan even began celebrating as early as 1983! What an exemplary reminder of just how much passion exists within our industry; from the passion of those who produce it, to those who trade, roast, and package it, to those who consume it, coffee is enveloped by a special sense of enthusiasm.

To our fellow coffee colleagues, the NCA Next Gen Council hopes that your cup was full on this year’s National Coffee Day!

Origin Spotlight: Basilio Fuscich, Green Coffee Trader, Co. Honducafé

Bent Dietrich Jr, Coffee Trader at American Coffee Corporation, chatted with Basilio Fusich, trader at the renowned and highly-regarded Cohonducafé. A coffee exporter in Honduras, Cohonducafé leverages its local knowledge and relationships to share Honduran coffee with every corner of the globe. 

The interview below has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.  

Basilio representing Cohonducafe at a trade show.

When was Co. Honducafe founded? How did you get your start in the coffee industry and at Co. Honducafe? 

November 1999. Coffee has always been part of my life. Ever since I was a kid, coffee has been a topic of conversation. I officially began to work at Honducafe right after I finished my master’s degree in Coffee Economics and Science from Universita del Caffé in Illy in Trieste, Italy. 

What is the current socio-economic climate for coffee growers, exporters, and stakeholders in Honduras? 

These last couple of years have been very harsh for all parties involved. Back in the 2018/2019 crop, the market was below levels of $100, then during COVID-19 came the 2019/2020 crop, and then we had hurricanes Eta and Iota in [the span of] 15 days for crop 2020/2021 — and are still suffering from the pandemic. Ever since I began in the industry, the country has been climbing uphill every year to be able to export its crop. 

What are the biggest challenges young members of the coffee industry face in Honduras? 

There is already a lot of competition in the industry and adding the hardships of COVID-19 will make it more challenging. The reason I mention Covid is that the economic impact on small businesses here will be very long term. The economy is extremely dependent on coffee and any changes to the supply chain pressure the entire economy. 

The freight rates are increasing, causing all our necessary goods to [go up in price] rapidly. At the end of the day, younger and newer farmers are more susceptible cost increases. The real challenge will be keeping younger people engaged in the industry long-term. 

Does Co. Honducafe have any sustainability initiatives in Honduras you are particularly proud of? 

We have Fundacion Co. Honducafe, a non-profit organization that promotes the development and improvement of the coffee sector by promoting and supporting initiatives that promote productivity, economic growth, social responsibility and care for the environment.  

We have numerous projects with many clients around the world that have built schools in coffee producing areas in Honduras.  

We have seen the market rally from around $150 recently to almost $220 and back. For this year, how do you think it will impact Honduran producers? You mentioned previously it was an election year, and coming off last year’s hurricane, there must be many concerns for the industry?  

It would have been great for the producers to have these levels at the beginning of the 2019/2020 crop so that they can receive more money and invest in their farms. The timing limited the opportunity for producers to take advantage of the higher prices. We are hoping that this year everything goes smoothly and the industry can work without interruptions from political and natural events. 

What do you think NCA Next Gen members should really know about Honduras, and the future of coffee in Honduras? 

I invite them to get to know more about  our coffee. We have excellent quality that can be promoted in the highest markets of the industry.         

Any advice for young people in coffee on growing in the industry? 

My advice is to continue the good work that is being done, and always be on the lookout for new technologies that will make coffee growing more efficient and sustainable. Through our foundation, we partner with farmers and producers to continually explore new technologies and inputs to increase their yields and profitability.  

What has your experience been working with the NCA? 

My experience has been great. It has given me the opportunity to seek new customers and build my network of clients. 

Finally, what is your favorite way to consume a cup of coffee?  

I will sound boring, but my favorite way to consume my multiple cups of coffee during the day is Americano with no sugar. Especially freshly roasted from my grandfather’s farm. 

Logistically Speaking, Part 1: Meet Don Pisano, Logistics Guru and President of American Coffee Corporation

By Nora Johnson, Commodities Manager, Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA

Where is that container of coffee?”

Don Pisano

Chances are, if you work for a green coffee importer, exporter, roaster, or warehouse, you have either been the one asking this question or the one being asked this question. This answer to this question lies in a fundamental aspect of the coffee trade and supply chains everywhere – logistics.

Given the events of the past fifteen months – a global pandemic, a container shortage, record-breaking container demand, port congestion, blank sailings, a blockage of the Suez Canal, a rare freeze in Texas, the hack of the Colonial Pipeline, and a strike in Colombia, just to name a few – supply chains have been faced with numerous challenges.

For the inaugural piece of the ‘Logistically Speaking’ interview series, Nora Johnson, Commodities Manager at Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA (MZB-USA) and NCA Next Gen Council Member, sat down with Don Pisano, President of American Coffee Corporation and renowned leader in logistics.

The interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity with approval from the interviewee.

Tell me about your background and career. How long have you worked in coffee, and how did you find yourself in logistics?

Don: I got into the commodities business back in 1976, working for a British firm handling insurance and claims. They were trading cocoa, coffee, and tea, but they were bigger in cocoa than coffee. I worked for them for about three years, then moved over to the logistics field. I then spent the rest of my career in coffee, apart from a four-year stint with the Sugar Division of ED&F Man. That was right before I joined American Coffee and the Hacofco Group. For 38 out of 45 years I was strictly in coffee. I was glad to get back to coffee, that’s for sure – coffee is an engaging industry, everyone likes to talk about coffee – it gets in your blood and you build a lot of relationships.

As the President of American Coffee Corporation, do you still find that logistics has a role in your everyday job?

D: I am an admitted “logistics geek,” but you can’t really separate logistics from running a company. The commodities business is supply chain and it just so happens that the product that we are dealing with is coffee. Coffee is unlike any other industry, but at the end of the day, it is supply chain – logistics is supply chain and it is a key part of the overall business.

There are constantly decisions that need to be made and dealt with whether it is on the origin side or on the US/Canada side. I am very fortunate to have the logistics background and I think the company is served well by it. Any senior level person should have at least a knowledge of the processes and an understanding of what it takes to get your product delivered whether it be an agricultural product or a finished good.

Don Pisano at the Port of Virginia

From the NCA to the GCA to the National Industrial Transpiration League, you have dedicated yourself and served in so many capacities throughout both the coffee and logistics industries overall. What kind of topics would these different committees address for the industry?

D: Each role is quite different, but they are all related.

For the Green Coffee Association [GCA Logistics Committee (Chairman) and GCA Board of Directors (Board Member)], we have dealt with all things related to coffee movements, from U.S. Customs and FDA issues to ocean, truck, and rail transportation, to warehousing issues, cargo insurance, and more. The GCA Logistics Committee currently has around 29 members representing companies across the coffee supply chain – we span the full gamut, and it represents a significant portion of the GCA membership.

We have published a number of industry best practices over the years. These have been widely distributed to the membership and outside the membership. You can still find these on the GCA website.

The National Industrial Transportation League [NIT League Board of Directors (Board Member) and NIT League Ocean Transportation Committee (Former Chairman)] deals with everything transportation. We work with regulatory agencies, Senate and House Committees, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Surface Transportation Board, and the Department of Highways. The League acts as the voice of the shipper. Members range from small shippers to the likes of Cargill, Nestlé Purina, and Exxon Mobil.

I had the privilege to serve 2 terms, 6 years, as Chairman of the NIT League’s Ocean Transportation Committee. Internationally, NIT League is a member of the Global Shippers Forum. Based in London, the Global Shippers Forum represents various national trade associations from around the world. It is a recognized NGO and deals with issues in front of the United Nations, International Maritime Organization, and World Customs Organization. It is a privilege to serve them. Recently, the NIT League has been dealing with demurrage and detention issues, working with the National Retail Federation, and right now, we are drafting proposed legislation to revise the U.S. Shipping Act of 1984.

The Warehouse and License Committee of the NY Board of Trade [Warehouse and License Committee of the NY Board of Trade (Former Chairman)] provided oversight of the companies and individuals that were licensed to store or perform services on behalf of the Exchange for both coffee and cocoa (and wood pulp products at the end). Over the years, the Warehouse and License Committee enhanced the warehousing, storage, and insurance requirements to ensure that the performance of the licensed warehouses and companies kept the contract [futures contract] liquid. This committee has since been brought in-house within the ICE.

While with the National Coffee Association Logistics Committee [NCA Logistics Committee (Former Chairman)], we were working more directly on coffee regulatory issues, whether with Customs, the FDA, all the FSMA regulations, and various other issues. 

Can you elaborate on your experience with the NCA Logistics Committee and the work you did with FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act)?

We addressed each of the 7 regulations that resulted from FSMA. The FDA created 7 different regulations over a period of years addressing the different segments that would require a regulatory authority over them. The NCA weighed in on all relevant regulations that applied to coffee to make sure that coffee was being treated as a raw, agricultural product as opposed to a finished product. Green coffee is processed prior to consumption, so it must be treated differently than other finished products. We also worked with the Scientific Advisory Committee and other NCA members to come up with the Hazard Analysis Template that the industry could use as a guideline.

Would you recommend that up-and-coming coffee professional get involved early on? How would one go about that?

I definitely would – the coffee industry is going to face many challenges and opportunities, so I would encourage each of you to get active and get engaged in efforts that would provide benefits to your careers and your companies and the coffee industry at large.

The coffee trade associations are always looking for volunteers – reach out to any of the associations and look out for requests for volunteers for the various committees (note: your company must be a member in good standing to participate). Check out the associations’ websites, look at the various committees, and see what best aligns with your discipline, role, and interests. As long as your company and your immediate superior supports you, reach out and volunteer your time to serve.

You will benefit, your company will benefit, and you will get knowledge of the issues that are being faced throughout the trade. You are then better equipped to deal with those issues. At the end of the day, the industry is still very much based on relationships. It is well worth the investment of your time.

This might be the toughest question of them all…! Can you walk us through and characterize the logistics crises of the last 15 months? What has the past year in logistics looked like from your perspective?

D: The crisis was the COVID pandemic. We’ve been treating the logistics dilemma as a crisis, but really, it’s more the consequence of that crisis and lock downs, and a tough challenge for our supply chain. In my career, this has probably been the most difficult challenge and certainly the most costly one. The sheer volume of trade has overwhelmed the existing network capacity. There is currently insufficient equipment – insufficient containers, trailers, vessel space, rail and truck capacity, and even drivers – it has been extremely difficult.

Going back to the early stages at the beginning of 2020, there was excess capacity in the market – mostly on the ocean side – but there was more than enough capacity. Then COVID hit and everything plummeted, but once people repositioned themselves at home, there was a surge in demand. Then you had an influx in spending with stimulus money and a surge in spending on PPE and medical equipment. Between electronics, consumer purchases, and medical equipment, the demand was tremendous. The carriers were fairly slow in getting their capacity back online. Ships were at anchor, idle, because the carriers didn’t want them to be sailing at 50% capacity. When things started to move, they were slow to get capacity back into the market. Then, the demand just outstripped any increase in capacity. It got bad in the fall, then it got worse, and it has remained extremely tight. Many of your traditionally containerized commodities are now even being shipped in break bulk as in years prior.

Right now, it’s a struggle to find capacity. The last round of stimulus enacted in March has prolonged the challenge of getting enough capacity back online. Personal savings has been at an all-time high, consumer debt was at a very low level, and governments were still rather restrictive on the services sector at this time, so people continued to spend money on electronics and durable goods.

Coffee competes for capacity against other products of higher value. The value of the freight versus the value of the goods within the container is more bearable for these higher valued goods (electronics, furniture) than what you could bear for coffee or another agricultural product.

Now, with the lifting of the restrictions on the hospitality sector, you are starting to see a narrowing in the gap between consumer purchases of goods and spending on services. As this gap narrows, there should be less money to be spent on the purchasing of goods and supplies. I am remaining optimistic and hoping to see capacity start to improve towards the latter end of the fall though this may not lead to any immediate reduction in freight rates. As they say, live in hope, die in despair!

Do you think that the happenings of the past 15 months have transformed the logistics landscape forever? In other words, do we have a “new normal” for logistics practices moving forward?

D: It has definitely highlighted the importance of logistics departments and personnel at just about any company that has to deliver a product – this is a good thing. I think that companies will reevaluate their supply chain partners, how they contract with their carriers, and whether they have enough options to choose from when times get tough in addition to considering upgrades to their systems to manage their supply chains. I also think that manufacturers, warehouses, and distribution centers will look at what they need to do in-house to become “shippers of choice.” This would make life better for our truckers – oftentimes, the trucker gets little consideration at some facilities. Becoming a shipper of choice where they [the trucker] know they will be treated with respect will count.

I’m not sure the term “new normal” would be appliable to the logistics industry since it is perpetually changing. You get a “new normal” every other day.

Of your entire career, what was the most memorable logistics crisis, event, or time that you experienced?

D: Honestly, there are many difficult periods that I’ve had over a long career – many that I would prefer to forget! – but for the coffee industry in the U.S. and myself personally, Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It devastated New Orleans and caused significant damage to warehouses, the port, businesses serving the coffee industry, and of course, it was a huge loss to coffee stocks that were stored within the port warehouses.

At the time, I was Chairman of the Warehouse and License Committee, and together with their VP of Operations, we went down to New Orleans to report on the conditions, expected losses, and the recovery efforts. We stayed on a Naval vessel as no hotels were available. I was equally as awestruck by the scope of the devastation that was inflicted on New Orleans as I was by the dedication and perseverance of our many friends in the industry. After ensuring that their families were safe, had survived, and were cared for, these people looked first at protecting the hundreds of thousands of bags of coffee that were stored in their facilities. The facilities were severely damaged – half a roof and side walls missing – it was incredible. They then had to work to repair the facilities and deal with the damaged product in an effort to recover and preserve as much of it as possible and as quickly as possible. By reporting on these efforts to the Exchange we helped to stabilize the market volatility that was caused by the storm and allowed for a rational and deliberate path forward which benefited the coffee industry and the great people and businesses of New Orleans.

I saw this first-hand – it was remarkable how they persevered and recovered.

What would be your best piece of logistics-related advice for a “Next Gen-er” working in the coffee industry?

D: In general, reach out beyond your desk and your office perimeter. Challenge yourself and expand your sphere of influence. You always want to be part of the solution, not the problem. Volunteer your time (whether it is within your company or within trade organizations) and build your network with professionals inside and outside of the coffee industry. Broaden your knowledge, elevate your career potential, give yourself different dimensions, get involved in your community, and make your life more interesting. Find a mentor, someone who you trust that will have your best interest at heart. Importantly, remember that it is always best to build your network before you need it! 

Coffee and Chat with Alejandro Lozano Rojas of EXPOCAFE

Bent Dietrich, Trader at American Coffee Corporation and NCA Next Gen member, recently sat down with Alejandro Lozano Rojas, Manager of marketing and Innovation at EXPOCAFE S.A., for a discussion on his background and any words of advice he has for aspiring young coffee professionals.

Alejandro Lozano Rojas
  • Let’s start at the beginning. How did you start your coffee journey? How did you start at Expocafe and what made you decide that coffee is what you wanted to pursue?

I started as an independent businessman, broker and advisor for international business (import and exports) in the Colombian market. In 2005, I was ready for a journey to the UK but Mitsubishi Corporation recruited me as a coffee buyer in Colombia, for the Japanese market. That marked 5 very intense years of learning the coffee trade and many other products. By the end of 2010, my chapter with Mitsubishi closed. It was during a vacation in Europe when I was contacted by Expocafe to become a coffee trader. The ten years since has been made up of incredible experiences and continuous learning in the world of coffee.

  • Since you started working at Expocafe in 2011, what would you say have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry, on both the customer side, and also within Colombia?

Shifting from mainstream to 100% certified, I would say coffee drinkers around the world are thirsty to have more stories about coffee and better understand how they participate and consume sustainably. There is still work needed in solving problems the market cannot address. Colombia is shifting from just great quality to a leader in terms of sustainability and innovation. I still remember when the Scandinavian market was purely commercial and now it is interesting to see them shift to 100% certified coffee.  Also leading this change is the growth in specialty shops and the boom of micro-lots.

In Colombia, farmers are very open to change and ready to adapt. They want better farms and more income. They have and will continue to adopt modern technologies, be better informed and better connected.

  • Expocafe is known for their ties to local cooperatives. Can you please elaborate/explain your structure, and what makes you different?

Bent, this is such an interesting topic for economic theory. Basically, thousands of coffee growers in Colombia, let’s say roughly 77,000 out of about 540,000 are members of 33 Cooperatives. These Cooperatives make transactions with members and non-members accounting for about 30% of the total Colombian coffee output. Under this baseline, Expocafe S.A is owned by the Cooperatives and trades about 30% of this grand total, in this sense our channel trades roughly 9% of the total coffee exports of Colombia, in its majority differentiated coffee (total about 1.1 M bags 70Kg).

With this you can see, how complex and interesting our network to build this coffee economic system can be.

  • With that in mind, are there any special projects, initiatives you are particularly proud of on the sustainability front?

As about 80% of our portfolio is traded as differentiated coffees (certified, verified, Direct Trade, origin, micro-lots and preparation among others), we believe we are mature enough to build new initiatives to innovate and integrate resources with other players in the national and international economy. Our new venture in sustainability is named WRM (Water Resource Management – The Blue Coffee Bean). This represents the ethics of virtues to generate manageable projects, and to support highly vulnerable coffee communities such as children, indigenous, women and those in high poverty region, to name a few. The core is to first approach the person behind the coffee and help give access to basic sanitation, reduce water pollution in coffee processing and increase education among others.

Through this, we can help develop their capabilities to produce value added coffee (for example as certified coffee, or premium demanding specialty lots).

  • In your opinion, what should your customers (trade/roasters) be doing differently in their approach to promote sustainability? What steps can we take to improve the industry as a whole?

Sustainability is part of the business but should not be negotiable. Integrative vs distributive, changing the world starts solving problems at the source.

Origin is not a utopia. The new reality of Covid demonstrates how basic sanitation is still the key to survive.

The industrial revolution occurred in 1780 and after 240 years, many industries are still searching for a way to be environmentally friendly, to improve the world we live in. The environmental challenges are no longer just ideas, these are real threats.

Businesses should now be thinking about building wealth through elevating living standards (Conscious Capitalism). 

We should be starting discussions on sustainability from the bottom-up, not top-down. Sustainability initiatives should grow from discussions had with producers, and expand from there.

  • Since this interview is targeted for the NCA Next Gen, where do you see the industry in 10-20 years? What changes do you anticipate in Colombia (farmers/coops or anything else) and with your customers?

Cooperatives at the end will strengthen their operations as an expression of the local culture’s needs and desires. We will have coffee growers who will use the latest technology in their farms (solar panels, smart systems to clean water, smart soil fertilization) and generate their own food. Data will be collected from the farms, and the whole value chain will be more sustainable and transparent. In this sense, 20 years Juan Valdez will be recalled for growing the best coffee and the most sustainable one. In other words, we should be the Tesla of Coffee.

We will see stronger commitment from the industry and other stakeholders, to help make this dream come true.

  • What advice would you give an NCA Next Gener?

When I joined Expocafe in 2011 I attended my first NCA (that year was the NCA’s 100th Anniversary). With this in mind, I believe you are the ones who will write a new book. To Next Gen members, I would advise you all to unite forces and work on small projects origin. Build it up it from A to Z, suffer through it, manage it, make it come true and market it. You will enjoy the experience, and learn the values of the coffee chain.

  • How has the NCA helped Expocafe? What value does it provide?

The NCA is a great example of how an industry should perform and grow. For Expocafe, we find it to be the best network, information, and regular updates about the coffee industry. The friendships it facilitates.  All this shows how the coffee world is more than just business. It’s about community and relationships.

  • If you had to pick a favorite coffee/prep, what would it be? (Correct answer is anything traded through Hacofco 😊 )

I like tinto campesino. It’s black coffee, sweetened with sugar cane. It reminds me of good times with my father on our farm. When I’m at work, I enjoy an espresso. Now that I see the two faces of the business (commercial and sustainability), it’s a gratifying experience to drink a coffee I know benefits the coffee growers in our value chains

Origin Spotlight: Ethiopia

By Alma Likic, Marketing Manager, PLITEK and NCA Next Gen member

Recently, Alma Likic, Marketing Manager at PLITEK and NCA Next Gen member, interviewed Yisehak Awel, a third-generation coffee grower and exporter from Mullege Coffee, for a discussion about the history of his company and the current coffee growing situation in his home country. 

But first, a little history about Ethiopian coffee:

Ethiopia has long been considered the place of coffee origin. According to legend, a goat herding monk noticed that when his herd was nibbling on the bright red berries of a certain tree, they became more energetic (“jumping goats”). The goatherder chewed the fruit himself and confirmed his discovery, which he then shared with others at the monastery. The rest is history: Word of this energizing bean spread, and by the 15th century, coffee was being sipped across the Arabian Peninsula, making its way to Europe by the 17th century and soon spreading around the world. To this day, coffee is critical to Ethiopia, accounting for 70% of all its export revenues and employing 15 million Ethiopians.

The flavors of Ethiopian coffee are notably diverse – from citrus, bergamot, and florals, to candied fruit and even tropical fruit flavors. It’s principle coffee-growing regions can be divided into the following: Sidama/Sidamo, Harrar, Yirgacheffe, Limu, Jima, and Ghimbi/Lekempti.

There are three coffee production systems used in Ethiopia: Forest Coffees, where wild-grown coffee is harvested by the local population; Garden Coffees, grown in small holder plots around homestead or other dwellings along with other crops; and Plantation Coffees, a very small percentage of Ethiopian coffee, grown on large estates.

The following interview with Yisehak Awel has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Yisehak Awel

How did Mullege Coffee come to be?

My grandfather, Awel, started Mullege Coffee PLC in 1953. His beginnings were humbling as a lone farmer within the confines of small city called Areka in the southern part of Ethiopia. His big ideas weren’t as restrained as his economic situation for which he found a solution; He started as a farmer selling to wet mill owners. To increase sales, he managed to negotiate with other farmers to buy their red cherry coffee to expand and diversify his product line, having an advantage and opportunity to grow. He did that long enough to be able to own his own washing station and buy from multiple red cherry farmers in southern Ethiopia to sell parchment coffee directly to the exporters. And by 1996, thirty-three years after its inception, and with my father, Mustapha, joining the family business, Mullege Coffee started selling coffee directly to the European market.

“Joining the NCA is worth for me to take a 16 hour flight every year for this 3 day event.”

-Yisehak Awel

What is the socio-economic situation in Ethiopia?

The socio-economic status in Ethiopia may not be ideal, but through farmers’ growth in wages, there is some optimism of that continuous growth in the years to come. The productivity is still at an infancy stage. The most common farm size is 1.98 acres, limiting each farmer’s opportunities. Farmers’ inability to scale their crops encumbers growth at a more rapid pace, which ultimately affects their overall income. Despite this, the small but steady growth over the last decade has given everyone a glimmer of hope to see more significant changes to the country’s infrastructure to improve the lives of farmers.

What are the biggest challenges for young Ethiopian coffee producers? The greatest opportunities?

Scale of production is a major challenge. Most young farmers inherited land from their parents which they share amongst their siblings. Farm lot sizes are extremely small ranging from 1.5 to 5 acres of land. Therefore, the cost of production is high due to low output. However, there are tremendous opportunities in diversifying crops.  Avocado trees are used as a shade tree for coffee. There is an increase of demand for Avocado fresh fruits and avocado oil for both local and international markets.

Is there a sense of excitement about coffee for young producers?

Not quite. Young people want to work in an urban environment and pursue careers or entrepreneurship.

What is coffee consumption like among producers? 

Ethiopia consumes more than 50% of its production. Coffee is a ritual and part of our lifestyle. Majority of young people consume coffee.

How do young coffee producers view sustainability in coffee?

There isn’t enough awareness when it comes to sustainability of coffee among young producers. Those who are aware challenge the logic of sustainability since the monetary return is low. I’ve had a farmer who said to me “we barely have enough to produce let alone to sustain.”

Any current events/forces outside of coffee affection young coffee producers in Ethiopia?

Urban migration is a main factor affecting young coffee producers. There numerous industrial projects coffee growing region by local and international investors. Wages are very attractive and young people prefer the urban lifestyle.

Any message to your Next Gen counterparts in North America?

The perspective and perception of farmers has already changed. Farmers are aware and exposed to what’s happening in the global coffee value chain. As young coffee professionals in consuming countries you have different challenge than your predecessors; we all need to come together to convince coffee farmers to keep producing coffee.

What is the impact of Covid-19 on coffee growers and exporters?

As exporters, we have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19, but we’ve still managed to sustain during these unfortunate times. One of the reasons is because we serve the international market as well as the local market. And the local market has not been affected as much. Ethiopia consumes over 50% of the coffee produced. Coffee growers and exporters have been able to maintain their local customer base. Additionally, the government has provided incentives to farmers with a goal to increase farmland for coffee growers in certain areas like Jimma and Leemu, which will contribute to increase in farmers’ output.  Because of the mass consumption of coffee locally and government initiatives to sustain farmers, coffee growers have been able to weather this storm.

How would you describe your experience with NCA (events) to young professionals looking to join?

I have been attending NCA events since 2013. The contents of the presentations are very insightful and informative about the coffee industry. It is by far the best event for networking with potential clients, industry experts, and catching up with colleagues from the entire coffee supply chain. In the past few years NCA has focused on engaging young coffee professionals with the Next Gen initiative. Joining the NCA is worth for me to take a 16 hour flight every year for this 3 day event.

What’s Happening with ‘Ideation to Action?’ A recap of the Next Gen Panel from the 2021 NCA Virtual Convention

By Nora Johnson, Commodities Manager, Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA

To kick off the 2021 NCA Virtual Convention, the Next Generation Council was proud to present the panel discussion: “Ideation to Action: Sharing the risks and rewards of sustainability in the coffee value chain.” Organized by the NCA Next Gen’s Events Committee, this panel discussion was an attempt to bring the supply chain together for an earnest conversation about sustainability.  As the Events Committee’s Chair, Eric Mitchell, explainsIt is clear to this generation that when it comes to sustainability, we must act united as an industry—individual initiatives will only get us so far.”

Thus, NCA Next Gen invited participants from each part of the value chain: Francisco Lacayo (L53 Estates), Hugo Valdivia (HVC Exports), Esteban Jaramillo (S&D Coffee and Tea), Nathalie Gabby Huddleston (RGC Coffee), and David Browning (Enveritas). And the panel was moderated by Olivia Bartelheim of the Rainforest Alliance.

Sustainability is one of the “hottest topics” in coffee, yet, despite the topic’s forefront position in conversations across the supply chain, getting from conversation to application has proven to be challenging. These knowledgeable panelists provided experienced-based insights into how the risks and rewards of implementing critical sustainability initiatives can better be distributed and how the next generation of coffee leaders can help forge the way.

We have highlighted some key insights from each of the panelists below, but if you missed your first chance to watch the panel live or think you would benefit from a second viewing, be sure to check out the recording above.

The responses below have been paraphrased and lightly edited for clarity.

Nathalie Gabbay Huddleston, President RGC Coffee:

In response to the opening question of the panel, Nathalie shared three themes to keep in mind in order to ensure a balanced risk and reward for all stakeholders in the value chain:

  1. Collaboration is critical – you can’t tackle the world’s challenges alone.
  2. Listen to your partners along the supply chain and then build something that makes sense. Use a ground up approach on a wash-rinse-repeat cycle of trying, testing, and measuring as every solution is going to be different based on the situation and the community.
  3. Start small and scale up but think big! Practice sustainability at scale.

When it comes to engaging other producers, workers, and customers, Nathalie said to “inspire the why.” Feel inspired about the initiative and the project and why it matters, then inspire others to understand the need to make these changes while backing it all up with the data-supported business case.

David Browning, CEO – Enveritas:

When asked about how companies should be using data to take on responsibility in accelerating progress towards the most urgent issues, David explained that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” 

David contextualized this issue by metaphorically contrasting the reactions that occur in sustainability with the more proactive measures that are part of most organizations’ day-to-day business practices. Quality testing and measurements are part of the standard practices within most companies, yet oftentimes it takes a media story to trigger actions in sustainability. The scientific process with quality testing works, so apply it to sustainability in the same manner.

Francisco Lacayo, Industrial Manager – L53 Estates:

As a young professional in coffee and seeing the struggles that many generations have faced due to both price and production cycles, Francisco invested additional capital to have a higher yield despite the higher risk on his side. This translated to a lower cost per pound in the long term. In order to support the higher yield, additional labor was required resulting in a more sustainable income for workers. The increased capital investment allowed for more consistent production cycles, yielding more consistent relationships with customers as well.

When speaking on the climate crisis, Francisco encouraged others within the supply chain to visit the regions where there is less mechanization. He elaborated, sharing that we need to create more awareness for the most vulnerable populations at origin as to what climate change is and how it can affect them. We need to increase awareness through education which requires added capital investment from throughout the supply chain.

Francisco shared that although the word “sustainable” is beautiful, sharing profits across the value chain is how we will be able to sustain lives. We cannot talk about sustainability when prices are staying the same or decreasing year after year.

Hugo Valdivia, COO – HVC Exports:

Based in Peru, Hugo spoke about the importance of the price to quality ratio and of how efforts get placed on volume over sustainability initiatives and quality. As an example from his experience in Peru, by focusing on specialty and certified coffees as opposed to commercial grades, his organization was able to increase the price to quality ratio in order to deliver a fair price to the farmer.

When asked about what the sector can do to support young professionals as they confront the climate and price crises, Hugo described of how the next generation of farmers are transitioning out of coffee and into other products with less volatility. He explained of how coffee in Peru is viewed as a cash crop, resulting in limited reinvestment. In order to support young professionals, Hugo encouraged the development of shared value relationships across the supply chain.

Esteban Jaramillo, Sustainability Manager – S&D Coffee and Tea:

Sharing the risk and reward depends on the customer – not all organizations understand the coffee supply chain. We need to start by talking about the risk of not engaging in a sustainable supply chain.

Climate change is getting more attention from consumers, nonprofits, and government institutions, yet there is a gap between the understanding and the willingness to invest in sustainability. We need to make companies accountable while sharing that accountability with consumers. Risk means something different to every company – try to understand how risk impacts each company. Sustainability needs to be understood holistically, not by only one angle.

Hope for the future:

It wouldn’t be a Next Gen panel without asking panelists to share of what gives them hope about the Next Generation of coffee professionals. From increased awareness to a greater sense of empathy and innovation, our panelists guaranteed that there is much hope to be had.

To all Next Generation professionals, David Browning left us with a challenge to harness the enthusiasm and awareness of industry and organizational leadership as it relates to sustainability. The enthusiasm from leadership is there, but it is up to us now, this next generation, to be the ones to take us from Ideation to Action.

How to get involved in NCA Next Gen

We hear it all the time, “Oh, NCA has a Next Gen focused group? Sounds great—how do I get involved?”  Well, here is your roadmap to get involved with NCA Next Gen.

First, what exactly is NCA Next Gen?  NCA Next Gen is the arm of the NCA that focuses on engaging the next generation of coffee professionals. The NCA Next Gen has a council that is comprised of seven members who volunteer for a two-year term. The Council oversees two Next Gen committees: The Communications Committee & The Education & Events Committee. Both committees support young coffee professionals by providing resources, support, and a sense of community [For a list of current council members, click here].

You can get involved right now! The NCA Next Gen is always looking to get young coffee professionals more involved. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Stay Connected! Subscribe to our Next Gen Newsletter here. The newsletter format has recently been updated and will now feature content about your peers generated by fellow Next Gen members. We have a feeling this is one newsletter you will look forward to receiving each month.
  • NCA Convention 2021! The Next Gen Council organizes a variety of activities at the NCA Convention.  This year, we have organized a panel discussion about Next Gen’s role in sustainability within the coffee supply chain.  See more details about the NCA Convention here.
  • Want more? We are always accepting new members to our committees. We encourage you to serve on one of our Committees. You can sign up here.
  • Lead! If you have the time and passion to contribute beyond a committee, maybe a Next Gen leadership role is right for you?  Learn more about the application process and sign up here.

-NCA Next Gen Council