Monday, January 6, 2014

1. The Concept of this Blog

Jan. 6, 2014
The Concept of This Blog
(Disclaimer - this is a blog for coffee industry people, probably not so much consumers.)

This week marks the beginning of a season called "Epiphany" in the Christian church. "Epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." Thus, it seems to be a fitting time to begin a blog about researching and measuring what works (and what doesn't) at origin. Research is a process of revealing and making known things that are there, but not well understood. Some say research is "uncovering truth." In this blog, the truth we will be after is, "what works at origin to build capacity among coffee producers?" and "what methods and processes can help us answer this question?"

"Resiliency" is in the title of the blog because that is my hypothesis about what works throughout the coffee value chain. Where producers have built up systems and infrastructure for producing quality that are resilient in volatile markets, I hypothesize that that is where we will see wholesome standards of living. Also, when roasters and importers take the long term view when investing in their supply chain, my hypothesis is that that is where we'll see processes and programs that make a supply chain resilient. More on resiliency in the next blog.

Supporting Producers: Maybe I'm wrong, (because I haven't measured it carefully), but I believe I have witnessed in these past five years a growing desire to support and assist producers in more constructive and efficient ways than we have seen in the past. This is sometimes expressed by coffee roasters when they figure out what they don't like about a current labeling system (e.g. Fair Trade) so they create their own system and they label it "Farm Friendly" or "Farm Direct". It is sometimes created by the undeniable stresses global warming puts on our planet, so coffee-growing estates seek out certifications like ISO 14000 in order to work more sustainably over the long term. I've seen coffee roasters turn away from a shot-gun approach to helping at origin, where they help a little bit on lots of different issues, but are not able to show much significant progress or develop transferable and synergistic know-how. So some of these companies have decided to focus on a single issue like water (Portland Roasting) or food security (Green Mountain Coffee Roasters).

Improving the Supply Chain: Other "players" in the coffee industry have worked to enhance the core of the industry itself and the way it works. We now hear rumblings that "the industry is broken" from the likes of Sarah Beaubien at Farmer Brothers/CBI and David Griswold at Sustainable Harvest. These companies therefore seek to fix their own supply chain at least, changing what doesn't work so well in the global coffee market at large. Paying more for coffee through direct buying relationships is a pretty common denominator between all "fix the supply chain" approaches (and a good place to start, I would agree).  After that, improving access to inputs such as credit, training and agricultural technology (fertilizer, eco-depulpers, etc.) are often the investments these companies make. A frequently used term for this is "capacity building."

Whether they have started their own label, or helped to fund teachers or books, or whether they've forged a new way of paying premiums for high quality lots of coffee -- coffee companies and their programs are now also attempting to measure impact and assess effectiveness in some credible way. Thus we see the corporate social responsibility reports multiplying and becoming more detailed and getting better with their message and their consistency of metrics. To name just two examples of individuals and their organizations, Kim Elena Ionescu at Counter Culture Coffee and Michael Sheridan at Catholic Relief Services are on the frontier of measuring impact at origin. Others are on the forefront, too, and you can read about them here.

This blog: This blog will provide a forum for discussing both the projects related to resilience capacity building and the systems used to measure and assess such programs. To us, program design and program evaluation are inseparable and connected in an on-going cycle. This blog will share about projects where Artisan gets involved in directly, as well as highlighting what we see others in the industry doing.Welcome aboard!

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