Increasing demand and climate adaptation are top challenges in coffee certification

These are the findings of the Coffee Barometer 2014, launched ahead of the Sustainable Coffee Conference, coordinated by Hivos. It shows that coffee companies must take a greater responsibility in investing in farmer resilience to climate change and in matching their commitments to certification with actual procurement of certified materials.

Click here to read the press release on the Hivos website

The Coffee Barometer, produced collaboratively by Hivos, IUCN Netherlands, Oxfam Novib, Solidaridad and WWF, sends strong messages to both companies and sustainability standards, leading up to the Sustainable Coffee Conference taking place on 3 July in Amsterdam. The focal point of the report is that climate change remainds the predominant issue that all actors in the sector must address. It finds that in important coffee producing countries as diverse as Brazil, Honduras, Uganda and Vietnam, the areas suitable for coffee production will decrease substantially by 2020, while at the same time, global demand for coffee continues to rise.

Citing the conclusions of the recent COSA study 'Measuring Sustainability', which found that on average certified coffee and cocoa farms performed better economically and environmentally compared to non-certified farms, the Barometer supports standards and certification as one of the most important tools for promoting sustainable practices in the coffee sector. It acknowledges that a number of standards have taken on the climate challenge through various modules and approaches, but it urges standards to do more.

"There are many entry points that provide a window of opportunity to stimulate linkages in the coffee value chain and to enable farmers to become more resilient...but voluntary sustainability standards are yet to demonstrate their ability to deliver on the challenges posed by climate change," says the report. The report also points to the potential role that ISEAL can play in bringing sustainability standards together to tackle critical global problems like climate change.

Another challenge put forth to standards is to scale up their focus on capacity building. "VSS are not a magic formula and require a commitment to ongoing capacity-building and long-term investment if they are to improve the conditions of farmers and their communities," states the Barometer. The challenge of bringing technical assistance to farmers and involving more smallholders in certification cannot be accomplished by standards alone, and the report makes it clear that coffee roasters and other supply chain actors must take on a greater responsibility.

In particular it finds a pervasive gap between supply and demand whereby coffee companies are making commitments to procure sustainably that are not matched in practice. The report points to the statistics from 2013 where 40% of global production was certified or verified through programmes such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified and 4C Association, yet only 15% was actually purchased as such. While farmers receive the benefits of utilising more sustainable practices even if their certified products are not sold as such, they miss out on one of the most important rewards and incentives for implementing the standard, which is the premium they receive on the market.

The report also finds that the supply base of certified coffee remains highly concentrated, with over two thirds coming from Latin American producers. In Africa more large-scale investments are required in coffee producing communities to address the social issues and support the adaptation to climate change. These include access to better farm management techniques, to markets, to finance, to insurance, to information and technology.

Click here to read the Coffee Barometer 2014

Click here to read official press release, NGOs urge world’s top 10 coffee roasters to increase supply sustainability