International Coffee Day
If you’re enjoying a cup of coffee while reading this post, you’re likely to be in good company: coffee is the world’s most popular drink, with an estimated two billion cups consumed every day.
But for the farmers around the world who grow the plants that yield the coffee beans that are roast and ground to fill that cup of yours, coffee is more than just a commodity and a global market worth more than $90bn: it’s their way of life. Helping them to improve the way they farm – boosting quality, improving yields, and providing better market access to realise more of the value of their crop – can help millions of smallholder farmers grow themselves out of poverty.
That’s just one of the reasons behind International Coffee Day, celebrated annually on October 1. Behind this day of awareness is the International Coffee Organization (ICO), which this year celebrates its 60th anniversary. It’s the only intergovernmental organisation for coffee, bringing together exporting and importing governments, and representing an astonishing 93% of world coffee production, and 63% of consumption.
International Coffee Day acts as a lightning rod to highlight the work of ICO throughout the year: focused on strengthening the coffee sector, it is particularly attuned to the importance of promoting sustainable expansion to benefit everyone within the value chain, from grower to consumer. Good practice in coffee production can make a significant contribution to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals by generating income, creating employment opportunities and releasing families and even whole communities from poverty.
What’s remarkable about International Coffee Day is that it’s pushing at an open door: consumers’ interest in traceability and transparency is growing rapidly, and it’s no coincidence that fair-trading initiatives – with special attention to product quality and origin – have proved successful in the coffee market. That’s particularly important given its structure: coffee is usually exported from producer countries at a very early stage in its value chain, reducing opportunities to retain value.
The inexorable demand for coffee from the world’s consumers has had an impact on coffee’s sustainability, too. Traditionally, coffee is grown as an ‘understory’ crop – grown in shade, under the canopy of trees in a forest. In pursuit of increased production, more aggressive systems have been adopted. Yet those traditional systems offer many benefits, not least in fighting climate change impacts: carbon capture, soil retention, and preservation of biodiversity being amongst the most important.
Unsurprisingly, given FertiGlobal’s commitment to a more sustainable form of agriculture, coffee has been a focus crop for our research and development team. Our Total Crop Management approach is well-suited to coffee: by improving a plant’s resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses, through appropriate nutrition and product selection, farmers can better mitigate the effects of climate change. Coffee is highly sensitive to even slight changes in temperature and rainfall. World Coffee Research, a non-profit research and development organisation, points out that a crop of coffee planted today will, over its 20-60 year lifespan, bear the brunt of climate change. One fifth of the world’s coffee area may face up to 5 months of drought by 2050 (zero today), while 80% of the coffee area is likely to face maximum temperatures higher than 30°C. Coffee’s optimum temperature range is 18-21°C.
With this goal of resilience in mind, we’re delighted to be working with one of the world’s biggest names in coffee (sorry, we can’t reveal who!) on a new development in Brazil. Ethics and sustainability are of the highest priority for this producer, but they’re also focused on nothing less than the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to the quality of the beans they buy, selecting only from the top 1%.
Already a year into the project, we’ve collaborated with their agronomist team to establish a coffee-specific Total Crop Management programme. Initial work has seen innovative monitoring systems deployed to identify and combat plant stress, the aim being to maintain and increase bean yield and quality. More recently, the focus has widened to include disease monitoring – specifically, a system that can predict or anticipate the onset of coffee rust.
Coffee rust, caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, is the world’s most economically significant coffee disease. Once leaves are infected, they drop prematurely – depressing photosynthetic activity and weakening the tree. Because next year’s berries are borne on the previous season’s shoots, rust in one season influences the following season’s yields. Nutritional status is associated with the plant’s susceptibility to rust – hence the importance of a Total Crop Management approach – but further benefit will certainly be achieved from a system that can anticipate the development of the disease.
You’ve probably finished that cup of coffee by now. Go and pour yourself another one. But this time, savour it even more with the knowledge that FertiGlobal’s working hard to see its commitment to sustainable agriculture manifested in the humble coffee bean – with far from humble effects for the growers who meet our daily demand.