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.

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.

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! 

NCA Member Spotlight: Nano-Purification Solutions

Companynano purification solutions
Location: Charlotte, NC
NCA Member Since: 2018
Twitter: @npsi_USA
Facebook: /nanopurificationsystems
Instagram: @nanopurificationsolutionsusa

What does nano-purification solutions do?

Nano is a manufacturer of nitrogen gas generation systems used for coffee packaging, manufacturing, cold brew coffee production and nitro draught service.

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A Partnership to Protect the Future of Coffee

The NCA is working with the Sustainable Coffee Challenge to help make coffee the world’s first agricultural product

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


Here at the National Coffee Association (NCA), we like to say that “we serve coffee.”

With the rising threat of climate change, serving coffee today also means serving the planet. We know coffee’s future depends on coffee being the world’s first fully sustainable crop.

To help make this vision a reality, I am immensely proud that the NCA has joined the Sustainable Coffee Challenge.

(Read the official news release.)

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Consumer Insights: Coffee Claims [Video]

From sourcing to roasting, coffee companies can have a lot to say about their product. These messages can majorly influence consumer perception and behavior – but not necessarily in the ways you’d expect.

A new NCA Consumer Insights report (based on NCDT data) takes a closer look at coffee claims – which include general statements, perceptions, or things that people find motivating about coffee.

For example, said Cheryl Hung, VP of Research at Dig Insights, during a recent webinar: “What kind of equity does coffee have with consumers? Are there positive and negative associations with coffee among different demographics? Who perceives coffee in a negative light? And what can we say to persuade them from a marketing perspective, or via point of sale?”

Get more highlights in the video below – and to learn more, check out the webinar (on-demand playback free for members) or NCA market research:

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