Coffee Keeps Young with Fairtrade and Sustainable Harvest
Keeping the next generation engaged in the coffee sector is one of the challenges facing the industry. Fairtrade International is working with coffee importer Sustainable Harvest and Fairtrade cooperatives to inspire the coffee farmers of tomorrow.
This article is the second of two featuring stories about how cooperatives and their partners are working to create greater opportunities for youth in their communities. Read the first article here.
It’s a poorly-kept secret in the coffee industry that the current generation of coffee farmers isn’t getting younger, and the next generation is being drawn away from the coffee farms for opportunities in cities and other industries.
If the coffee sector is going to continue to thrive in the long term, sustainability issues need to be addressed. But this goes beyond implementing new methods of cultivation or adapting to the effects of climate change. Sustainability needs to address the future of the men and women who work on the farms – a fact that Fairtrade International and coffee importer Sustainable Harvest are keenly aware of.
“Coffee is complicated,” said Olga Cuellar-Gomez, Strategic Relations Director at Sustainable Harvest. “There are so many challenges and there are not a lot of opportunities to earn a lot of money. I don't think we - and I say ‘we’ as an industry - are doing a great job of promoting (the fact that) coffee is something you can explore in any profession.”
She says the challenge in keeping the younger generation of coffee farmers involved in the industry is showing the wide-range of jobs that can be associated with coffee. From biologists to baristas, Cuellar-Gomez says there are plenty of opportunities in coffee.
“You can create, you can have different things to do – but I don’t think we are good at communicating that,” she said.
One of the key components of selling this message is making all levels of the supply chain aware that coffee needs to be an appealing endeavor if it is going to take hold with the next generation.
“If a young person stays on the farm and they do some experiment; they create a very special coffee, but then the industry doesn't pay for it - what is that?” said Cuellar-Gomez.
To emphasize the importance of getting youth involved in the coffee sector, Fairtrade and Sustainable Harvest teamed up at the 2012 edition of the importers Let’s Talk Coffee forum to offer a grant from a newly established Youth Development Fund that supports the development of projects spearheaded by youth in Latin American coffee communities.
The winner last year was the Fairtrade-certified SOPPEXCCA cooperative in Nicaragua for their youth-led eco-tourism project.
“Eco-tourism represents an economic alternative for young people,” said Fatima Ismael, the General Manager of the co-op. “[Tourists] can go see how coffee is being processed. We can go visit a farm. We can also see how coffee is being produced, as well as organic fertilizer. In all of these branches of eco-tourism, [the coop’s] young people are involved.”
Keeping the discussion going
The conversation about youth in the coffee industry continued at this year’s “Let’s Talk Coffee” forum, which took place at the beginning of November 2013 in El Salvador. A panel discussion took place with a father and daughter exporter duo from Brazil, a mother and son from a coffee producing family in Colombia, and representatives from two American roasting companies.
The discussion showed that the coffee industry is ready to tackle the issue of generational sustainability, but large corporations and coffee buyers need to be part of the process. Governments in coffee producing countries have a role to play as well, especially when it comes to quality education, technology, innovation, and basic resources such as roads, water, and energy.
“How we can convince young people to stay in rural areas when we are not offering all that a city can offer?” said Cuellar-Gomez in an email after the conference. “This is not only an industry concern but a national and international matter.”
It’s a complex situation which requires many pieces to fit in order to build a sustainable coffee scenario – a goal Fairtrade and Sustainable Harvest support and actively pursue.
Read 'Innovation in Education: The Fairtrade Learning Curve' for more on how Fairtrade is working to ensure a sustainable coffee industry with a future that includes the next generation.