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An Origin-Focused Preview of SCAA 2014 in Seattle

SCAA event

From the SCAA 2013 welcome reception in Boston. Photo by SCAA.

by Michael Sheridan of CRS Coffeelands Blog

After a careful review of the lecture program, I wonder whether this year’s SCAA Event in Seattle may the best ever for folks like me coming in from the coffeelands.

Every year I accompany CRS staff and project participants from Latin America to the SCAA Event. In preparation, I review the agenda carefully to identify and recommend lectures I think have unique relevance for folks from “origin” and people interested in “origin issues.” This year’s program is so chock-full of origin content that folks in our delegation are going to have some difficult choices to make. A good problem to have.

Below is my short list of best origin content at the 2014 SCAA Expo. PDF version here.

FRIDAY, 25 APRIL

9 am
The lecture program starts with a bang. During the first session, two panels wrestle with BIG thorny questions related to the underlying economics of smallholder farming, while a third gives growers the opportunity to interact directly with leading buyers.

  • The Economics of Coffee Production: Can Family Farms Survive?
    This panel addressedsthe BIG question that folks are reluctant to ask in polite company: can smallholder farmers survive on just a few hectares of farmland in a context of climate change, market volatility and increased competition? The panel explores issues that are not sexy but are essential to the issue at hand–production costs and sales revenues–and considers some leading approaches to making the trade more profitable (and sustainable) for smallholder growers. Dennis Macray, current advisor to Theo Chocolate and former director of sustainability at Starbucks, Konrad Brits of Falcon Coffees and Rick Peyser of GMCR/Keurig give the panel some serious gravitas from the coffee side of the equation; Dana Boggess of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation anchors the international development side of the discussion.  
    301. (English only)
  • Producer’s Guide to a Social & Environmental Scorecard
    The adage tells us you can’t manage what you don’t measure.  This panel of origin experts explains what they measure and how they use it to manage for greater social and environmental impact. I will be looking to this panel to inform our ongoing conversation on social performance managementPanelists represent three producing countries and years of experience managing, advising and supporting farmer enterprises: Mathias Nabutele of Uganda’s Coffee A Cup coop, Santiago Paz from the Norandino cooperative in Perú and Ángel Mario Martínez-García, a Mexico native who advises coffee cooperatives around the world.  
    201. (English with Spanish translation.)
  • Ask the Green Buyer
    This panel is an Expo staple and for good reason: It is an invaluable space for growers to interact with some of the leading buyers in specialty. Inexplicably, it is NOT being translated into Spanish this year or offered in a separate Spanish-only format. The SCAA is playing its cards close to the vest on this one — panelists are TBA.
    2b.  (English only.)

10.30 am
The pace hardly lets up during the second session, with three more worthy lectures for folks focused on origin.

  • Growing Prosperity from Crop to Cup: The Blueprint for a Resilient Coffee Value Chain
    Some of the best thinkers and doers in the coffee sector address the first of three important R-words on the Expo’s origin agenda: resilience. Threats to the coffee chain are mounting: climate change, increased volatility in weather and markets, rising prices of food and agricultural inputs — the panorama is disconcerting. How can farmers build more resilent livelihoods against this backdrop? What role can specialty play in the process to help preserve the coffee trade? David Griswold and Willy Foote, the award-winning social entreprenuers behind Sustainable Harvest and Root Capital, respectively, will hold sway. Alejandro Escobar of the Multilateral Investment Fund will also bring his many years of expertise in coffee and agroenterprise to bear on the discussion.
    201. (English with Spanish translation.)
  • Plant Pathogen Biology: Rust and Beetles and Borers, Oh My!
    A survey of the leading coffee pathogens and pests, with a special focus on coffee leaf rust. What could be more timely?  SCAA Coffee Science Manager Emma Bladyka presents.
    211. (English only.)
  • Best of Symposium
    Highlights from the 2014 Symposium, whose agenda is focused on the pivot from Selling Better Coffee to Selling Coffee Better. A dynamic recap of some of the most innovative thinking in specialty.  SCAA Symposium Director Peter Giuliano moderates a panel discussion with coffee luminaries.  Panelists TBA.
    211. (English only.)

SATURDAY, 26 APRIL

9 am

  • From the Farm to the Roaster: Factors that Influence Coffee’s Taste
    Where does quality come from, anyway? We still haven’t done enough research to answer the question comprehensively or convincingly. The World Coffee Research sensory project, scheduled for launch later this month, will work in the years ahead to fill the gaps in our knowledge. In the meantime, come hear this survey of the scientific literature available on the subject. Shawn Steiman is well-positioned to lead this discussion: a coffee scientist and Q-grader who has been exploring the sources of coffee quality for many years.
    310. (English only)
  • Coffee Price Volatility: How to Avoid the Pitfalls and Perils of NOT Managing Price Risk
    This lecture addresses the second important R-word on the Expo’s origin agenda: risk. Price volatility is a permanent feature of coffee markets. Actors in the coffee chain ignore it at their own peril. This session delivers an overview of the drivers of price discovery and sources of market volatility as well as a review of the leading tools to mitigate price risk. Julio Sera is a Senior Risk Management Consultant at INTL FC Stone, whose work on price risk management has set the standard in the coffee sector.  
    303. (English only.)
  • Millions on the Margins: Bringing Farmworkers into Mainstream Industry Sustainability Efforts.
    I am delighted to be facilitating this panel on a topic that I think represents a next-generation sustainability challenge for specialty coffee: farmworkers. Since I started in coffee more than 10 years ago I haven’t encountered anyone who doesn’t think farmworkers are the most vulnerable actors in specialty supply chains. And yet, our collective understanding of farmworker issues is limited. This panel begins to illuminate what is a blind spot for many of us. The lineup for this discussion is impressive: Erik Nicholson of the iconic United Farm Workers will provide an overview of farmworker issues based on more than 30 years’ organizing experience and a recent survey of farmworker protections in coffee-growing countries; Pascale Schuitt of London-based Union Hand Roasted will present original research on child labor in the coffee fields; Miguel Zamora of Fair Trade USA has been leading Fair Trade Certification pilot projects on coffee estates for the past two years — together with Leonardo García, who participates in a pilot with the La Revancha estate in Nicaragua, he will present the early results from pioneering efforts at farmworker organization and empowerment in the coffee sector.
    201.  (English with Spanish translation.)

10.30 am

  • Innovating for Sustainability
    Leading international development practitioners explore how cutting-edge digital technologies, salient research, innovative approaches to service delivery and old-fashioned  collaboration can deliver new breakthroughs in the coffeelands. Heather Franzese of Good World Solutions will explain how the organization’s Labor Link data platform connects workers and companies; Peter Kettler, former Development Director of Coffee Kids is currently Director of Radio Lifeline; Marcela Pino is a co-founder and co-director of Food 4 Farmers, an organization taking a new look at an old problem — hunger; Nicolas Mounard directs the coffee trading business at Twin, where he also leads the organization’s delivery of best-in-class technical and advisory services for farmer organizations.
    201. (English with Spanish translation.)

SUNDAY, 27 APRIL

10.30 am
In their wisdom, the event’s organizers have left the 9 am Sunday slot open, which allows folks to enjoy themselves on Saturday night and still rest up for the final push through a strong final lecture session.

  • Assessing the Impact of the Relationship Coffee Model
    The final lecture session examines the third important R-word on the Expo’s origin program: relationships.  For many years many of us have evangelized on behalf of direct trading relationships, financial incentives for quality and improved information flow upstream and downstream in the supply chain–practices that are at the heart of Sutainable Harvest’s Relationship Coffee model. This lecture presents the results of a study conducted to test whether Relationship Coffee lives up to its promise. Colleen Ununu, formerly of Gimme! Coffee and currently at Cornell University, joins colleague Juan Nicolás Hernández-Aguilera and Sustainable Harvest’s Olga Cuéllar-Gómez to present results of a year-long study.
    310. (English only.)
  • Three Varieties in El Salvador: Production and Potential
    This lecture presents the results of the kind of applied research we need lots more of in specialty: side-by-side trials of three different varieties grown in the same soil with the same inputs and husbandry, meaning much of the observed difference can be attributed to genetics. Emilio López Díaz is a sixth-generation coffee grower member of the Roasters’ Guild Executive Council and founder of Cuatro M, purveyor of fine Salvadoran single-origin coffees. Michael Kaiser is the commercial manager of Cuatro M.  Both are inveterate experimenters.
    204. (English with Spanish translation.)
  • Value of a Distinct Brand
    This session is not pitched to growers or agencies like ours that support them, but in a marketplace where traceability and origin are important sources of differentiation, value creation and brand, I am curious to see whether/how farmers and farmer relationships figure in the conversation. Brian W. Jones, the designer whose blog Dear Coffee, I Love You is among the most influential in specialty coffee, presents.
    211. (English only.)
  • Coffee Price Volatility: How to Avoid the Pitfalls and Perils of NOT Managing Price Risk
    The Spanish-language version of the Friday session.
    3A. (Spanish only.)

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