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International Coffee Day: How a ‘coffee data shop’ is helping reimagine sustainability

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LONDON, UK – With young people in coffee taking the spotlight for this year’s International Coffee Day, how can roasters, brands and retailers be confident that their beans are contributing to a sector that nurtures the next generation of farmers?

As one of the leading green coffee exporters in the world and part of Olam Food Ingredients (OFI), Olam Coffee is already driving transparency and action through its revolutionary insights platform, AtSource. So for customers wanting to buy sustainable coffee – as well as cocoa, cashew and spices – this translates into…

Unparalleled insight into supply chains

Nearly 25,000 small-scale coffee farmers from 12 origins, covering just under 60,000 hectares are registered on AtSource. This gives buyers worldwide – from specialty coffee houses, to international roasters – the ability to trace the journey of their bean shipment all the way back to the estate or farmer group it came from.

The data for this is collected and analysed by Olam’s field teams across our sourcing origins and own four estates. Farm and community information including quantities of seeds and inputs, access to healthcare and education, and tree cover loss, combined with processing and transport information, add up to over 100 economic, social and environmental metrics for customers to choose from.

This real-life data opens a new window to companies beyond Olam Coffee in the supply chain, into where their coffee came from and how it made its way to them – something that has been extremely difficult up until now because of the often complicated journey it travels from rural villages and through the hands of many middlemen.

Sustainability metrics that matter

The customised model allows companies to choose the level of transparency they want to dig into, with three tiers to suit various levels of sustainability ambition – from risk assessment, to action plans.

The country-level information at Entry tier is particularly valuable for companies who may be just starting their sustainability journeys and want to manage reputational risk. If sourcing from Papua New Guinea for example, they can understand the magnitude of gender disparities or the country’s vulnerability to climate change.

The data gets more granular at the second tier, AtSource Plus, which covers the entire product journey from farmgate, through processing, up to the customer’s door. So when a customer based in Germany logs on to the dashboard, it will show them that their specialty arabica from Uganda is sourced from a group of 1,026 farmers in the Mt. Elgon region, that 70% of have received training on Good Agricultural Practices and secured average yield increases of 49% for the current crop year, compared to the last.

The unique granularity and accuracy of AtSource’s data, specific to each customer’s supply chain, means companies can better report and take action on the sustainability issues that matter most to them and their consumers.

A traceable footprint from farm to factory

The Eco-calculator on AtSource reveals the total environmental footprint for coffee, broken down into carbon, water and land-use, at each stage of its journey – on the farm, in processing, and transport to the destination port. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not this latter stage that’s responsible for most of the CO₂ emissions, but the on-farm activities. Coffee grown in Huila, Colombia for example, and shipped to a Canadian roaster in Toronto, generates 6.55 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (per tonne) with agriculture contributing 97%.

So this is clearly where we need to focus most of our efforts relating to climate action. Training on climate-smart practices like creating organic compost from cherry pulp, intercropping and proper fertiliser management, to name a few, are aimed at reducing this on-farm footprint and the Eco-calculator will show us how effective these are over time.

Actionable insight for meaningful impact

Being transparent about the good and the bad in our supply chains, encourages others to support Olam in developing and scaling effective interventions. Now that we have a better understanding of the drivers of improved livelihoods overall, we are devising strategies and programmes with our partners to inspire the next generation of producers.

Olam’s family succession projects engage over 1,300 families worldwide. One of these is in Brazil’s São Sebastião region as a customer partnership, where, 70% of children surveyed from 20 families initially told us that they regarded coffee farming as risky business when it comes to income security.

Having observed Saturday morning training sessions on their parent’s farms, and seeing first-hand the difference the right practices, cost and quality control can make, the older children are getting more curious about coffee’s place in their future. As 16-year-old Sofia Silva told us: “Before I started to be part of the project, I was very distant, had no interest or desire to be present on the farm. But after, I learned the importance of family farming and how it fits into our lives.” After graduating, she now plans to return to the farm to continue the family business.

Infinite ambition for landscape-level change

Designed to inspire and stretch both our own teams and our partners to deliver extraordinary results, AtSource Infinity is the most ambitious tier and is geared towards delivering transformational impact where we work. The first of our coffee sustainability programmes to qualify for Infinity status is a circular coffee model, involving a major coffee roaster, Solidaridad, Peru’s National Forest and Wild Fauna Service (SERFOR) and a cooperative, where profits from the sale of products made from used coffee grounds in the Netherlands are re-invested into environmental conservation to trigger longer-term land stewardship and improved livelihoods for 75,000 producers in Peru.

Change at this scale cannot be delivered by any business acting alone, but the opportunity to co-create these inspirational programmes not only showcases leadership in addressing complex challenges in our supply chains, but ultimately improves resilience at landscape level to help safeguard our choice of coffee blends and varieties in key regions.

And finally, a company’s role in creating this positive impact can be communicated to consumers who, with a heightened sense of wanting to ‘do good’ during COVID, want to know that their coffee purchase – whether from a café or supermarket – isn’t contributing to the climate crisis and offers an economically sound future for producers and their families.

Juan Antonio Rivas, Senior Vice-President Sustainability, Olam Coffee