The word “sustainability” is thrown around a lot and the understanding of what it is has changed somewhat over the years. But when we talk about sustainability in coffee we are really considering what is known as the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.
Sustainable development meets the needs of today without compromising future generations. Simply put, it is being responsible with the way we use resources to ensure our children and grandchildren have what they need to live comfortably.
How does sustainability relate to coffee?
Climate change and fair coffee prices are rightfully important topics today, but sustainability is not a new idea in the coffee world. As far back as the first international coffee agreement in 1962, there was discussion of how to limit the amount of excess on the market to ensure economic sustainability.
It can get overwhelming to consider sustainability in totality and the many ways that people, planet, and profit are interlinked.
Why we need social sustainability in coffee
Many coffee-producing countries have extreme poverty and lack effective social infrastructure. In the highly volatile coffee market, producers and their families are incredibly vulnerable. The economic sustainability of the industry is strongly linked to the social sustainability of communities around the world.
Unstable coffee prices have a direct impact on access to education, housing, food, healthcare, and other basic necessities. The geographical isolation of many coffee farmers can place prohibitively high costs on practical things like buying tools or transporting a harvest. These things can become inaccessible when coffee prices fall.
One key area in need of improvement is gender inequality. The Rainforest Alliance reports that female coffee farmers produce less than their male counterparts because they have far less access to resources.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, if the playing field were made level, women could increase their farm yields by 20 to 30%. The ICO estimates that closing the gender gap could create an extra 30 billion cups of coffee per year.
In a report on sustainability in the coffee industry, the IISD states that the coffee trade can reinforce gender inequity by maintaining patriarchal supply chain structures. It suggests that alternative trading structures may be an opportunity to improve the gender balance throughout the supply chain. Although this is a 15-year old report, gender inequality is still widespread in coffee.
Child labour is another social issue to consider. It has been reported that children are widely used as cherry pickers on plantations in some countries.
We all need to be responsible growers, exporters, importers, traders, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. Qahwah club is a partner of the Sustainability Coffee Challenge, we have made commitments and set ourselves goals. Join our journey as we try to do our bit.