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Key Recommendations from the SCAA’s Blueprint for Water Security in the Coffeelands

SCAA Water Blueprint

The Specialty Coffee Association of America last week published its Blueprint for Water Security in the Coffeelands as part of its series on critical issues at origin. The 24-page white paper follows the format of others in the SCAA’s blueprint series, including the blueprint to end hunger in the coffeelands and a blueprint for farmworker inclusion.

The latest blueprint’s stated purpose is:

to support action by coffee stakeholders committed to increasing water security at origin

I fully believe the blueprint can serve as a useful reference for highlighting water-related actions at origin. (Disclosure – CRS was among a group of specialists invited to contribute to the blueprint.)

Blueprint Summary

Framing the Problem

The blueprint frames the global issues around water security, the specific issues related to the agriculture sector, and the opportunity for the specialty coffee industry to take a proactive role in improving water security at origin. Some key points include:

  • Every year since 2012 the World Economic Forum has rated water crises within the top 3 global risks in terms of impact on society and economic development.
  • Water scarcity and declining water quality have generated supply risk, reputational risk, and regulatory risk for buyers of agricultural products. The coffee industry is no exception.
  • Going forward, the definition of “sustainability” for the specialty coffee industry must ensure that coffee production and processing do not threaten local water security.
  • Where coffee is grown, it often dominates rural landscapes. Coffee farms, small and large, shape the ecology of entire regions — vegetation, the streams, and even roads are influenced by coffee production practices.

In the blueprint’s words:

There is a broad spectrum of how coffee is managed on farms, and the differences between good coffee production and processing practices and bad ones have major implications for water resources.

Framing Solutions

Water-related risks in coffee supply chains can rarely be dealt with independently by industry.  Lasting solutions to water security require sustained and coordinated efforts involving many actors at origin and in the marketplace.

Below is a rapid outline of the blueprint’s six primary recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Know the Source

The starting point for engaging on water security is learning about water resources in the specific landscapes where you are sourcing coffee.

Recommendation 2: Promote Water-Smart Farming Practices

Some of the most important practices farmers can adopt include:

  • Plant on contours.
  • Build micro-terraces at every tree.
  • Manage soil to manage water.
  • Maximize vegetative cover on the soil and in the canopy.
  • Use efficient irrigation practices (where irrigation is needed).

Recommendation 3: Promote Water-Smart Milling Practices and Technologies

  • First, reduce the amount of water used in mills, by reusing and recycling water.
  • Second, fully treat wastewater.

Recommendation 4: Create Incentives for Water Smart Practices

  • Use site-specific water scorecards to measure water use and environmental impact
  • Make specialty coffee standards clearer for water, and making the protection of water sources a standard.
  • Buyers, roaster, and other “downstream” actors in supply chains should co-invest in water-smart equipment and technologies 

Recommendation 5: Build Consumer Awareness About Water through Coffee

Create strategic partnerships at Origin, and learn from existing partnerships

Recommendation #6: At the Industry Level: Strategic Collaboration

In the blueprint’s words, “To achieve lasting impact at scale, industry leaders may need to partner at origin with companies they compete with in the marketplace to map shared water-related risks and identify common interests.”

The entire blueprint white paper is available here.