As this year winds down, I'm optimistic about the increasing recognition non-profits in the coffee sector are giving to academic institutions. In particular, I've learned over the past 12 months of the collaborations -- past and potentially in the future -- between Michigan State University (MSU) and the Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA).
In early 2014 when COSA released its "Measuring Sustainability Report" I noticed MSU's Dr. Larry Busch is on the scientific advisory committee. Dr. Bush is MSU's Distinguished Professor Sociology and Director, Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards. He is well-traveled and has researched standards in many different food supply chains. In a conversation I had with Dr. Busch in June this year, he praised COSA for their boldness in accomplishing 20,000 farmer surveys since the start of their assessment program -- truly an unprecedented number for a single survey and these were done across 16 countries.
COSA builds its work on the same basics of scientific research that are the hallmark of MSU's research groups. MSU has been conducting impact assessments in remote rural areas on the African continent for decades. Researchers such as Dr. Dan Clay (Department of Community Sustainability) bring their high-level knowledge of survey design to cash-crop value chain work, including coffee, as evidenced by projects like USAID's PEARL project in Rwanda (2002-2007) and BAP in Burundi (2008 - 2013). Others, like Dr. Mywish Maredia (International Development Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics) have recently designed randomized control studies to assess impacts of programs in Rwanda, Lesotho and Burkino Faso. Dr. Murari Suvedi (Department of Community Sustainability) is another senior researcher who is especially well-known in Asia (Cambodia, Japan, Nepal, to name a few) for his expertise in impact evaluation.
Like COSA, Michigan State University is known for its ability to implement scientific rigor pragmatically, especially for business. Its MBA program at the Broad School of Business has been ranked #2 (after MIT) by U.S. News and World Report for Supply Chain studies. MBAs at MSU can take courses in "Sustainable Supply Chains" and "Measuring Socio-Economic Well-being."
In a year-end greeting, COSA's Danielle Giovanucci writes with optimism about "our culture of collaboration bridging diverse points of view to ignite dialogue and cooperation to address [the complex challenges of agricultural sustainability]." Given COSA's proven record for collaboration and MSU's depth of expertise in assessment, sustainability and smallholder agriculture in developing countries -- one can certainly see this partnership growing in 2015!