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As Prices Sagged, the Business of Coffee Sustainability Surged in 2019

lavras Brazil coffee farm

Coffee growing on a smallholder farm outside Lavras, Brazil. Daily Coffee News photo by Howard Bryman.

As commodity coffee prices sagged at historic lows throughout much of 2019, many of the world’s largest coffee buyers held their tongues as tightly as they pulled their purse strings.

That’s not the case with the scores of nonprofits and NGOs that are working in and around the coffee industry, many of whom announced banner projects and funding towards increased sustainability in the sector — particularly for economic and social initiatives in the places where coffee is grown.

2019 saw a number of heavily funded, collaborative pre-competitive and proprietary initiatives geared towards improving the livelihoods of coffee producers. Numerous large coffee-buying corporations also turned to the bond market to fund sustainability initiatives, and famed economist Jeffrey Sachs took his swing at the coffee industry, reinforcing the idea that a business-as-usual approach in commodity coffee trading will continue to put coffee farmers and even entire coffee economies at origin in peril.

One of the most interesting movements to come about in 2019 was an unprecedented transparency pledge among a small but growing number of progressive roasting companies under the name “The Pledge: A Common Code for Transparency Reporting in Green Coffee Buying.”

It was also a remarkable year for the long-running nonprofit program the Cup of Excellence, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in Brazil, while announcing its intentions to bring the competition and auction program to coffee’s birthplace, Ethiopia.

Here are some of the biggest large-scale-sustainability and NGO-related news stories of 2019:

Darrin Daniel

ACE Executive Director Darrin Daniel. Daily Coffee News photo by Howard Bryman.

Still Excellent After All These Years: The Cup of Excellence at 20

Driven by the pursuit of quality, consumer interest in traceability and sustainability, and the proliferation of the internet, the specialty coffee industry has changed a lot over the past 20 years.

The Cup of Excellence (CoE) green coffee quality competition and auction program has played a substantial role in bringing about some of the more positive changes, while also serving as a sort of microcosm of the industry in the countries in which it has worked…

With Traceable Colombian Microlots, FNC and USAID Launch Coffee For Peace

Formally announced nearly two weeks ago at Colombia’s major coffee expo, Cafés de Colombia in Bogotá, the Coffee for Peace program is designed to promote coffee trade and sustainable farmer incomes in areas of Colombia that have been historically affected by violence and illicit drug trade economies…


Seedlings at the Rocael Vasquez residence. Photo by Devon Barker (@devonbbarker), courtesy of World Coffee Research.

World Coffee Research Releases Free Guides for Seed and Seedling Production

While abundant resources are directed to the cup end of coffee’s seed-to-cup journey, much less coordinated attention has been paid to the seed end.

That chasm has been significantly narrowed with the release of two new guides from the pioneering nonprofit World Coffee Research that address what the organization calls a “hidden crisis” in the coffee sector: a lack of adequate systems throughout the coffee-growing world towards delivering high-quality, healthy seeds and seedlings to farmers…

Coffee at a Crossroads: Inside Jeffrey Sachs’ Landmark Sustainability Report

The highly anticipated report on the sustainability of the coffee sector from famed Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs finally dropped on Oct. 1, providing a sprawling and thoughtful view of the past, present and potential future realities affecting the global coffee sector…

Ethiopia and the European Union Launch $16.5 Million Coffee Project

The Ethiopian government and the European Union have officially embarked on a €15 million (approximately $16.5 million USD), five-year program designed to boost the Ethiopian coffee sector.

The program, called EU-Coffee Action for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (EUCAFE), which has been outlined for at least two years, is being funded entirely through the EU’s European Development Fund…


Daily Coffee News photo by Nick Brown.

Coffee Companies are Signing an Unprecedented Transparency Pledge

A growing number of progressive coffee companies from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia have banded together in support of a radical new strategy to promote coffee purchasing transparency reporting.

Seventeen companies and counting — predominantly roasters plus one importer (United States-based Coop Coffees) — have signed “The Pledge: A Common Code for Transparency in Coffee Buying.”…

Swiss Trader Sucafina Announces $300 Million Sustainability-Linked Credit Line

Switzerland-based coffee trading and logistics company Sucafina has received a $300 million credit facility with some links to sustainability targets.

Led by the French bank BNP Paribas along with 10 other banking institutions — including the Dutch bank Rabobank as the sustainability agent — the $300 million credit line follows other high-profile sustainability economics news in the coffee trading industry…

Nespresso Launches ‘Reviving Origins’ Program with $9.8 Million Pledge

To this point, the effort is focusing on three specific local coffee-growing regions — in Zimbabwe, Colombia and Puerto Rico, respectively — which have historically produced coffee, yet have struggled to thrive in recent years due to some combination of political instability, market forces, natural disasters or conflict…

Starbucks Greener Store

A Starbucks location in Chapultepec Reforma, Mexico, that utilizes an open-air concept with integrated landscape features. Starbucks press photo by Guillermo Su Rez.

Starbucks Issues $1 Billion Sustainability Bond for Supply and Retail

The $1 billion sustainability bond is the largest ever in the global coffee sector. Starbucks issued its first sustainability bond, at $500 million, in 2016. At the time, it was considered an innovative means of corporate financing for sustainability projects. The company followed that up in 2017 with another corporate sustainability bond, worth 85 billion yen (approximately $773 million, as of this writing) on the Japanese market…

Global Coffee Platform and Hivos to Collaborate in Latin America

Two of the leading nonprofit organizations involved in global coffee sustainability, the Global Coffee Platform (GCP) and the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos) have signed a letter of intent to address some of the main sustainability issues in Latin America…