As a coffee drinker and a fan of Dean’s Beans (whose mission is “to use high-quality specialty coffee as a vehicle for progressive change throughout the coffeelands of Asia, Africa and the Americas”), I was interested to come upon a Living on Earth radio story about the wider sustainable-coffee movement.
Steve Curwood is host of the Public Radio International show.
“CURWOOD: A cup of joe might help sustain your energy, but it may not be so sustainable for the Earth. Just 12 percent of coffee is sold under the label ‘sustainably grown.’ A new initiative called the Sustainable Coffee Challenge aims to change the way the coffee industry operates to the benefit of the Earth. Peter Seligmann is chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Conservation International. … So tell me about the sustainable coffee challenge that CI has just formed. Why did you zero in on coffee as a target for sustainability?
“SELIGMANN: Well, we started working on coffee about 15 years ago with Starbucks, and after 15 years we’ve been able to announce with Starbucks that 99 percent of all their coffee is certifiably sustainably harvested and produced. Which means that as their company has grown they have not cut a single tree, and hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests have been set aside as Starbucks has expanded its coffee business. That inspired us to think, is it possible to make coffee the first agricultural commodity that is completely and 100 percent sustainably produced. …
“The dark side of coffee growing is that coffee that is not produced under the shade of forest, [is] produced by clear-cutting forests and planting coffee. And when you clear-cut a forest, you destroy the biodiversity, you put emissions — CO2 emissions — in the atmosphere, you lose soil, and you do industrial agriculture, which maximizes pesticides and chemicals and reduces the benefits to society.
“CURWOOD: So, what’s the obstacle to growing coffee sustainably?
“SELIGMANN: It’s convincing the producers that this is in their enlightened self-interest. To go from non-sustainable coffee to sustainable coffee requires an investment of money and it requires time. Most of these growers, farmers actually work in co-ops, and the challenge is getting the co-ops to agree that this is the transition they want to make from non-sustainable to sustainable and what’s going to motivate them is there being a buyer for the coffee they grow. And so it gets back to the consumer, and the consumer says it’s what we want.” Read on.
Photo: Martin Diepeveen, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Coffee beans are the pits inside the fruit or “cherry” of the coffee plant.