Monday, April 20, 2015

20. Day 1 of 3: Can Lean Tools Work in Coffee?

Apr. 20, 2015 -- West Chester, Ohio (near Cincinnati, OH)

I was stunned when after a full day of our wonderful trainer, Rich Carey, teaching us about the value of using the Japanese terms for helping teams grasp lean tools -- the founder of Definity Partners (and Definity University), Ray Attiyah, said, "better not for coffee." Ray Attiyah is the author of  the book Run, Improve, Grow and a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur. I just know him as the brilliant person who has built a business helping manufacturers embrace lean culture, not just get a certificate. So when he said, "don't use the Japanese and lean terms like "Kaizen" and "Value Stream Mapping" he caught me off guard. "Instead, remind them what their pain is," he continued. "Why will lean help them?"

Ahhh... now I could understand. Talking about solutions that sound foreign will not help companies get comfortable with what you're offering. Talking about problems that are urgent -- like"declining productivity for the crop that earns 80% of your foreign exchange", or "potato taste defect that means you have to reject 20 containers a year." Those are good conversation-starters in the coffee world if we want to also talk about how to "achieve customer satisfaction through the most efficient use of resources." (The latter happens to be one of the definitions of lean I learned today.) As we learned at the beginning of the "day 1" class today -- "you have to remember the why -- why are we doing this?"

This blog, however, is for the brave souls who have read this far and still want to know -- "could lean work in coffee?"  So far the answer is a resounding "yes!"  In addition to a solid introduction to the concept and history of lean, Rich taught us Kaizen events and Value Stream Mapping. For each tool, the program incorporates a walk on the manufacturing floor of the "co-inhabitant" of the building, Upside. Upside manufacturers aluminum stairs and platforms. I love this! Instead of making paper planes or building towers with tinker toys, we are using an actual manufacturing environment as part of our classroom. Twice already we've walked through the plant, learning about processes that are new and strange to each of us. We try to "see with new eyes" and do the Gemba walk -- finding waste.

Then we learned how to draw the two key processes in any manufacturing setting: the production flow and the (reverse direction) information flow. These two "flow" process maps make up Value Stream Mapping (VSM). VSM helps everyone see the time spent on value-add (VA) processes vs. the non-value-add (NVA) processes.

What I liked best today -- the emphasis on involve and empower employees.

Friday, April 17, 2015

19. IWCA Event1: Launch of the new IWCA Research Alliance sub-committee

Kick-off meeting of the IWCA Research Alliance at SCAA 2015 - planning a strategy for reducing the gender data gap in coffee

Top: 8 volunteers from around the world meet to discuss IWCA response to Gender Data Gap (not pictured, Mark Inman and Ruth Ann Church).
Bottom (L to R): Daniele Giovannucci (COSA), Mark Inman (Olam and IWCA board member), Marcus Young (Sustainable Harvest/Bloomberg grant program in Rwanda), Adam Wilson (formerly ThriveSupply), Ruth Ann Church (Artisan Coffee Imports), Julenia Maria Lopes da Silva (Brazilian coffee producer), Blanca Castro (ITC consultant/Damos), not pictured, Dr. Norbert Wilson (Auburn University)

April 17, 2015
On April 10 at the SCAA in Seattle, eight volunteers were able to gather to discuss how IWCA might address the Gender Data Gap in coffee -- specifically to decide whether to address the topic: "how many women are there in coffee?"  As co-chair of the IWCA Research and Education Relations Committee, Ruth Ann Church convened the group with the objective to address this "number of women" question for each country where IWCA has a chapter.

Each representative first shared from their own experience what activities they were involved in related to women in coffee. Then, Daniele Giovannucci, as founder of the Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA,, provided invaluable insights that the committee welcomed. COSA has been managing international data collection that has scientific integrity from coffee producers around the world for over 5 years and Daniele brings a career of experience from the United Nations and other multi-lateral organizations.  And yet, even he admits, his data is inadequate to estimate the number of women in coffee in the countries where COSA has worked. This fact alone tells volumes about how challenging this effort is, why it has not been done yet, and why it will take some time to change this situation.

Outcomes from the meeting can be summarized as follows:
1. Estimates not "exact numbers". The experience around the table confirmed that when discussing numbers of coffee households, numbers of men and women in coffee -- every group today is using estimates, and sometimes quite poor ones. So we should not expect to achieve exact numbers for women. Rather, our objective is to determine "credible estimates."

2. An IWCA program - The 1 hour discussion outlined three plausible, but different, directions the committee might go.
A. Ask In-country Institutions - ask the in-country institutions that already collect coffee-related data, such as agricultural extension agencies, universities, research centers, producer associations (like FNC), etc. Ask them for their best estimates of the number of women in coffee in their country.
B. Write Case Studies -- address the issue through case studies on a country-by-country basis. This would be more of a story-telling approach. By outlining the difficulty in understanding the "number of women" in coffee in a particular country, the broader situation and cultural context of women and their role in coffee would also be described.
C. Partner with an NGO - groups like the gender group at the United Nations or a university center, such as the William Davidson Institute were mentioned.

The committee's leadership will review the options and begin moving forward with one. Look for future updates here and on the IWCA website:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

18. Policy Impacts in Coffee -- The Challenge of Creating Enabling Environments

April 16, 2015
It's been a joy to work with Danielle Giovannucci of the Committee On Sustainability Assessment (COSA) based in Philadelphia, Mark Lundy of the the International Center of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia and Ben Carlson of Long Miles Coffee Project in Burundi. Together we prepared the lecture, "Cost to Produce vs. Price: Producers Narrow Margins" for the SCAA lecture series. Our Saturday morning lecture hall at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle was well-attended with at least 200 participants.

In future posts I will share more of the insights presented during our panel discussion, but today's post is a reflection on an aspect to "cost-to-produce" that was too much of a side conversation to include in the lecture proper -- POLICY. Yesterday (April 15) this topic was highlighted by the insightful blog-writer I follow with fierce dedication -- Michael Sheridan's CRS Coffeelands blog (

Michigan State University's Dan Clay has worked out the following framework to describe how policy is a critical force in effort to create an enabling environment for high quality coffee in Burundi. This framework is also relevant to Rwanda, for sure, and possibly other coffee-growing nations where the government and other bodies have power that mightily influences market forces when it comes to farm-gate prices for farmers.

In the framework below I note the following:
POLICY ENVIRONMENT: is at the very front end of everything -- right along with AGRO-ECOLOGICAL VARIABLES. These are the "givens" the farmer must "manage around" because she cannot change them. In Mark Lundy's presentation, he gives a formula: 

G (for genetics) x E (for environment, including weather) x M (management). This formula illustrates that the G and E are "givens" and the farmer can only manage or change the "M". It seems Mark may have left off the "P" for simplification for our presentation, too.

If I may suggest Mark's revised formula: P x G x E x M = Cost to Produce

FARMER COFFEE MANAGEMENT: is the section that lists the items farmers can control -- probably the detail of the "M" in Mark Lundy's formula.

Before we get to the market forces in the framework below, we see COFFEE PRODUCTIVITY/CYCLICITY and ANTESTIA DAMAGE/PTD.  These are the big "enemies" to coffee quality and therefore "enemies" of the livelihoods of coffee farmers today in Rwanda and Burundi.

SPECIALTY COFFEE MARKET SALES and PRICES are at the far right in the diagram, representing the desired growth market for Burundi and Rwanda coffee.  Mark Lundy also was compelled to include these forces in his "formula" -- he notes that the "M" of management is heavily influenced by the % coffee contributes to a farmer's income and the market channel to which a farmer has been selling.
It's important to note that the "P" factor, policy, and its influence is not a phenomena unique to coffee-producing countries. The U.S. and probably every country with significant agricultural production has policies that "distort" market forces and these policies are always hotly debated. Getting policy right is important business requiring great care, since it impacts the livelihoods of so many.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

17. World Barista Champ Uses Innovative Washing Technique

Apr. 15, 2015
Who says agronomists are the only ones who can help farm-level innovation happen?  The 2015 SCAA World Barista Championship in Seattle just confirmed that baristas can do it all -- even innovation at the washing station. He says that a "washed carbonic maceration" gave his Colombian coffee superior taste, especially fruity flavors.

Australia’s Sasa Sestic, founder of Ona Coffee was announced as the 16th World Barista Champion at the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) Event in Seattle, United States, on 13 April. Earlier in March, the Australian Specialty Coffee Association crowned Sestic, who hails from Canberra, the Australian Barista Champion at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo.

For his coffee, Sestic used Las Nubes – Sudan Rume varietal coffee from Colombia for its vibrancy and stone fruit sweetness.

From the Global Coffee Report, 4/13/15:
“In the past four years as a barista and coffee buyer I’ve meet many producers and together we’ve experimented in how to increase [coffee] quality,” said Sestic, during his routine. “In order to help make the experience better for my consumers I wanted to do more than just go to the farm and buy the best lots. Today I wanted to go more in depth into innovative farming and new processing techniques.”

Sestic said a new processing method called washed carbonic maceration gave the coffee its superior taste. The beans were washed in a controlled anaerobic environment, pumping carbon dioxide into a sealed stainless steel container. The lack of oxygen gives more clarity to the coffee and highlights more fruity flavours.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

16. Positive Impact Assessment for UTZ Certification in Colombia

April 14, 2015
The Centre for Regional Entrepreneurial and Coffee Studies (CRECE) in Colombia just published a study that shows that Colombian coffee farmers working to UTZ Certified standards coped better during a period of adverse conditions from 2008 – 2011.

The research compared the situations of 278 UTZ farms and 579 non-certified farms in Colombia. At the time of the study the coffee sector was experiencing unfavourable weather patterns, an infestation of Coffee Berry Borer and an outbreak of coffee rust, combined with high fertilizer prices.

CRECE found that non-certified farmers experienced a drop in yields of 52 per cent over the four years, while UTZ farmers maintained their yields and increased their incomes. The study found that by 2011 UTZ farmers’ net income was 65 per cent higher than those who were not part of the program.

From Global Coffee Report:
“Impact evaluations of sustainability standards remain limited, therefore we hope that this research can contribute to the worldwide debate on their impact,” Carlos Ariel GarcĂ­a Romero, who directed the research at CRECE, said in a statement. “The research shows that the scope of UTZ’s sustainability standard is multi-dimensional, impacting social, environmental and economic conditions.”

UTZ said the research also highlighted some challenges it needed to address to further improve the positive impact of its work in Colombia. This included supporting smallholders, maintaining training levels and ensuring best practice is followed for written contracts as its priorities. UTZ said it had already taken steps to address several of these issues.

Friday, April 3, 2015

15. Sustainability Panel Lectures at SCAA Seattle - Apr. 9 - 12, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Join the great gathering of passionate, innovative, game-changer coffee people in Seattle next week - April 9-12!  If you will be there, too, I hope we cross paths. Here are a few things to look for:
Learn new stuff!  

Attend one of the two panel lectures I am moderating:
Cost to Produce vs. Price: Producers Narrow Margins
Saturday, Apr. 11, 9:00 - 10:15am
The Conference Center (adjacent to the expo hall bldg.) - Room 304
  • Presenter 1: Mark Lundy, International Center for Tropical Agriculture, CIAT
  • Presenter 2: Saurin Nanavati, COSA (Committee on Sustainability Assessment)
  • Presenter 3: Ben Carlson, Long Miles Coffee
  • Moderator: Ruth Ann Church, Artisan Coffee Imports
Economics of Quality & Price: Insights From CoE Auction Data
Saturday, Apr. 11, 10:30 - 11:45am
The Conference Center (adjacent to the expo hall bldg.) - Room 202
  • Presenter 1: Norbert Wilson, Auburn University
  • Presenter 2: Adam Wilson, Thrive Supply
  • Moderator: Ruth Ann Church, Artisan Coffee Imports
Look for the early release of Roast Magazine -- May/June edition
Pg. 25, you'll find an article I wrote: "A New Focus on Farm-Level Economics" which reviews Rwanda and Burundi and research related to potato taste defect in those countries.