Ethos Agriculture’s Journey from Vision to Impact in Coffee Sustainability: Part Two

In the second half of this article, we discover how the Coffee Barometer attempts to bridge the gap between discourse and action, envisioning a sustainable future for the coffee sector.

BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

As we embark on the second part of our conversation with Ethos Agriculture team members, Frederik de Vries and Sjoerd Panhuysen (check out part one here), our focus turns to the heart of the matter—the 2023 Coffee Barometer. The Coffee Barometer, initiated in 2006, emerged as a response to the need for transparency in companies’ promises of sustainable coffee procurement, and has evolved over time.

A coffee worker in a cowboy hat checks out coffee beans on the plant.
According to the 2023 Coffee Barometer, urgent steps are essential for a sustainable coffee sector, addressing systemic imbalances and empowering farmers to invest, preserve ecosystems, and adopt responsible production practices. Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Ciara via Unsplash.

Navigating Industry Challenges

The latest Coffee Barometer emphasizes the multifaceted challenges confronting the industry. A major issue lies in the concentration of production, where 85% of the market is dominated by a select group of countries, and the top 11 roasting companies account for 35% of annual green-coffee roasting. Additionally, many coffee farmers struggle to generate sufficient income, hindering their ability to achieve a living wage.

The urgency of adapting coffee production to climate change is impeded by financial constraints exacerbated by income challenges. Furthermore, there’s a notable shift in the discourse around sustainability, transitioning from voluntary initiatives to mandatory regulations, exemplified by the recent EU Deforestation Regulation. Ethos Agriculture sees its role as a bridge, addressing these challenges through research, benchmarking, and further exploration of the issues.

The report also brings to light collaboration challenges within the sector. Ethos Agriculture notes a lack of critical civil society organizations holding companies accountable. ”The trend of NGOs collaborating with the private sector on sustainability programs sometimes limits their ability to be critical,” Sjoerd pointed out during our conversation. The Coffee Barometer report aims to fill this gap by providing an independent assessment; this will ensure that critical questions are asked, and companies are held accountable for their actions.

A living income graph. Brazil is highest on the list, and Guatemala is lowest.
The Coffee Barometer aims to unveil insights on living income and sustainability practices. Image courtesy of Ethos Agriculture.

Bridging the Gap Between Discourse and Action

As we discussed these challenges during our conversation, transparency in the public sector became a focal point. Ethos Agriculture raised concerns about companies hesitating to incorporate the actual costs, including social and environmental costs, into the prices they are willing to pay for coffee. This reluctance is evident in the low procurement of certified coffee and a hesitancy to experiment with pricing aligned with living income benchmark studies.

”Despite the proliferation of benchmark studies, there’s a noticeable gap in companies taking tangible actions. The knowledge exists, but the crucial translation into actionable support for farmers remains elusive due to a lack of willingness among companies to turn insights into concrete financial commitments,” Frederik said.

The Coffee Brew Index labels different organizations in coffee pot icons, with a color ranking system.
The Coffee Brew Index evaluated companies based on sustainability strategy; social conditions & inclusion; environment; and sustainable purchasing & economic conditions. Image courtesy of Ethos Agriculture.

The interview also touched on climate change, regenerative agriculture, and agroforestry practices within the coffee sector. While the Ethos team acknowledged urgency and commitment from some companies, they mentioned there is a concern about the lack of clear policies and actions to address climate-related challenges within supply chains.

The Coffee Brew Index is another key aspect of the 2023 Coffee Barometer. The index emerged as a new tool to provide insights into which companies are implementing robust sustainability policies. Challenges in transparency were highlighted, particularly the lack of comprehensive reporting by companies on sustainability practices, premiums, and traceability to the farm level.

A visual representation of the EU deforestation law’s due diligence requirements in the 2023 Coffee Barometer. Image courtesy of Ethos Agriculture.

Reflections and Future Initiatives

The interview concluded with insights into Ethos Agriculture’s ongoing and upcoming initiatives. The Coffee Barometer, conducted every few years, was emphasized as crucial for recording discussions transparently. The challenges posed by the transition from voluntary commitments to mandatory frameworks were discussed. They said there was a lack of preparedness among major entities in the coffee industry for new legislation and regulations, such as the aforementioned EU Deforestation Regulation.

Frederik and Sjoerd shared details about their ongoing projects, which include collaboration with the US African Development Foundation to support coffee cooperatives in East Africa. The Coffee Brew Index also is set to have a second edition, potentially involving more companies and traders.

The 2023 Coffee Barometer report is available to download for free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.

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