Q&A: Nespresso and TechnoServe CEOs Discuss How to Help Coffee Farmers Manage Climate Change Threats
On Earth Day 2019, we asked Jean-Marc Duvoisin, the CEO of Nespresso, and William Warshauer, the president and CEO of the international nonprofit TechnoServe, to reflect on this sustainability partnership and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
1) Why is it so important to work with coffee farmers to help them withstand changing weather and other climate-related farming problems?
Duvoisin: Climate change poses a real and serious threat; from erratic temperature changes that can ruin entire harvests, to unpredictable rains that can wipe out whole landscapes. The regions where Nespresso sources its coffees are already experiencing the adverse effects of this change. Scientific reports forecast that by 2050, climate change could reduce the global area suitable for coffee production by up to 50 percent.
I feel that as a premium coffee business, we have a unique opportunity. We can help to secure the long-term stable supply of high-quality coffee that our consumers love, while at the same time helping farmers to build their communities' resilience to climate change. In 2003, we developed our own coffee sourcing programme, the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. We partnered with the Rainforest Alliance and added one important element to their criteria: high quality.
This approach guides our partnership with TechnoServe. Focusing on only high-quality coffee means better prices for farmers, making coffee farming sustainable from an environmental perspective, but also from a social and economic perspective. It helps Nespresso to address our business objectives; it means consumers continue to enjoy coffee; and it gives farmers an opportunity to build their own sustainable futures.
Warshauer: The challenges Jean-Marc describes are becoming increasingly urgent, especially for small farmers.
Imagine, if you can, the prospect of losing much of your annual income this year. How would you provide for your family? What cutbacks would you make? How could you choose between buying food or medicine?
These are the kinds of choices that climate change is forcing upon millions of farmers in the developing world. More than 95 percent of the world's coffee farmers are smallholders, who often depend on this crop for their livelihood. Unfortunately, these farmers are among the most vulnerable to climate change, lacking the resources to cope with the increasing onset of erratic weather, pests, and crop diseases.
While clearly the world must do more to address the root causes of climate change, we can still do a lot to help farmers improve their resilience to climate threats right now. Learning "climate-smart"
2) How exactly do you help small farmers become more resilient to climate-related problems?
Warshauer: Working with farmers to plant shade trees on their coffee farms, as we do with Nespresso's AAA program, helps prevent erosion, improves soil nutrients, and increases carbon absorption from the atmosphere. Better mulching and pruning techniques – as well as integrated pest and disease management – can often mean the difference between a crop that survives erratic weather and a crop that does not.
To build true resilience, we are working with farmers to establish coffee cooperatives that help them share knowledge, improve access to finance, and increase the quality of their crops. We then help connect them to reliable buyers for high-quality coffee, like Nespresso – all of which improves their economic resilience and ability to withstand climate-related shocks.
Duvoisin: Climate, and in particular climate change, affects farmers in many ways. There is no one single solution – the answer must be adapted to the local context. One of the benefits of the Nespresso AAA program is that it can be tailored to different regions so that it tackles the specific challenges they face. We do this adaptation with TechnoServe, who has the expertise and experience to identify the solutions. The program is essentially about providing training to farmers, helping them improve their practices through expert advice, such as soil analysis, landscape management and book-keeping, and fostering a long-term relationship so that they have the confidence of having a stable buyer, year after year.
3) What are your future plans for working with small farmers on climate resilience?
Warshauer: We have some proven methodologies at this point that we're scaling up around the world, while always adapting them to the local context and looking for ways to refine them even more.
Technology will also play a huge role. In the past year, we tested how drones in East Africa could provide early warnings of crop diseases and pests, and we're now working on integrating blockchain into agricultural supply chains -- a traceability technology that gives consumers a window like never before into how sustainable and climate-conscious their purchases are.
Duvoisin: Building climate resilience is embedded across the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, so it is a key component in all of the projects we do with farmers. Currently, we are focusing more and more on how to support farmers in fragile regions, where coffee farming has almost been lost or forgotten, or is not economically viable. For example, we are working with TechnoServe in Zimbabwe, where coffee production has plummeted to almost nothing. Our consumers value the opportunity to taste these coffees, and it is very rewarding for them to see those communities learning how to grow a sustainable crop and earning a good income.