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Erika Koss at HostMilano: what are sustainability and resilience in coffee sector

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Erika Koss at the Mumac Academy Arena in HostMilano

MILANO – During the manifestation HostMilano, 18-22 october, it has been possible to learn something more about coffee, thanks to several meetings with several coffee experts. Many of them found their place in the Mumac Academy Arena. The first to speak is Erika Koss.

Erika Koss: who is this coffee guru? Let’s find out

She’s a native Californian now living in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s a writer, a
teacher, and a traveler. Erika Koss is a PhD candidate in the International Development Studies program at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is also a Research Associate at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

But she’s not only a theoretical women of coffee: she was former barista at Starbucks Coffee in San Diego and at El Recreo in Boston. Her mission is to spread the culture of coffee through literature, writing, and politics.

But, her connection to Host Milan came because of her work as a member of the Creator’s group since 2018 and she will still be a member of this group in 2020—this is the group who wrote the curriculum for the Sustainability Coffee Skills program of the Specialty Coffee Association. The course launched at the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston in April 2019. And, last but not least, Erika Koss is also an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST) for the “Introduction to Coffee” and “Sustainability Coffee Skills” courses. Erika Koss’s public talk at HostMilano was on the topic of sustainability and resilience of the global coffee
trade, particularly in East Africa.

Erika Koss started with a simple but difficult question: what is sustainability?

She explains the etymological origin of the terms: it’s from the Latin verb to sustain: “to endure, to bear up, to uphold.” Knowing this older verb’s meaning that link to our view of coffee families. Erika Koss says:

“We have to think about beauty & poetry since it is believed that Chaucer invented the verb “to sustain” and the first usage of it ever in English appears in one of his poems”.

Erika Koss then describes the sustainable development global to 2030 to be achieved

It’s clear that there’s a lot of work to do also in the coffee industry. And this path towards the changes was born long time before today, in 1987, thanks also to the mother of sustainable development Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian Prime Minister . She led the commission that eventually published the document titled, “Our common future”, where the now-famous “Brundtland definition” about sustainable development is clear: “ the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs.”

The speech of Erika Koss continues with this sort of claim: history of coffee began with slavery

And, as she stressed: “there are many kinds of abuses of women in the coffee chain”. This problem links directly to another main problem: the crises of coffee of 1989. Erika Koss started to explore this argument naming the first conference about coffee, that has been in 1962. In this occasion, every leader made the international coffee agreement, to have a product that would better give some equity in the global market.

However, after the ICA’ s collapse in 1989: there’s a link between what happened in 1989 and in 2018. In fact, this whole idea of a “price crisis” is not new, even though all the marketing attention to the “global price crisis” may seen like this is brand new. It’s important, as Erika Koss said, to now deeply the passed process to understand and resolve the modern crises. But it’s a very complex theme, that it cannot be
treated in a brief speech simplifying the issue.

After sustainability, what about Resilience?

It’s becoming the new main word after sustainability. It was created by the verb that means “to jump”.

Erika Koss: “ You can bounce back and you can recover. In Kenya women coffee farmers who carries heavy bench of coffee alone: they’re among the most resilient people that I have ever known. They are already resilient, but how can we help them from a more sustainable future? “

Why do these definitions matters?

Erika Koss showed some numbers and thoughts: some of the poorest countries in the world are the producer coffee countries. It’s not a coincidence. Most of the profit from the coffee industry goes to the Global North. And nowadays, the coffee production Is going down even if the consumption is growing.

According to that, the coffee production is drastically going down.

Erika Koss launched a provocation:

“If we want coffee in the future, we have to think about coffee producer. Facing the climate problem and not to wasting coffee. We have to resolve fossil fuels, carbon and other emissions. These problems are not the fault of the coffee producer, but they pay the price. “

Women and coffee

Erika Koss continued on this line: “Women are often the ones that make the hard work, of picking and sorting. When you drink coffee, you have to think about the all-day of physical work that women do in the field. The challenge is to make profitable the market for the future families of farming. “

Solutions: Coffee sustainability Program

The Specialty Coffee Association has included this new program. Erika Koss can teach the program (there’s only 4 other people in the world Who can teach the full program as of now). They launched this course of three levels, to train people to get certified and spread the knowledge. It’s online and it will be taught at MUMAC Academy in February 2020.

The main goals of this course include to find out who actually pays the price, to create a common language around sustainability, deep and wide. And, in the end, to share
resources on what works and what doesn’t.

Because it’s important to find many solutions, it’s vital we consider all the social, economic and environmental intersections to solve these global problems for the future of coffee.