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ITC – Three ways to support the sustainable resurgence of the African coffee industry

The following is the speech by Ms. Arancha González, Executive Director, International Trade Centre ( ITC ), delivered on 13 February 2014 at the 11th African Fine Coffee Conference and Exhibition, Bujumbura, Burundi.

I am delighted to be here today. The International Trade Centre  very much appreciates the continued collaboration we have with AFCA which has most recently been embodied in the co-development of a strategy for women and youth in coffee across the continent.

Allow me to congratulate AFCA for their successes over these past 11 years and to offer you our support in your move to expand from East Africa to the full continent. I already see this as paying dividends with the presence of Central and West African countries here today.

A special thanks to Executive Director Samuel Kamau for his openness to the collaboration and for inviting me to address you this morning.

I was heartened by the theme of this conference: the Sustainable Resurgence of the African Coffee Industry. ITC is a believer in the growth and employment creating potential of the African Coffee sector.

We have worked with the sector in Cameroon, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the countries of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAs) to develop strategies to re-launch their production. We have updated the National Export Strategy in coffee for Uganda.

We support the Inter-African Coffee Organization (IACO) in their efforts to support the resurgence of the public sector and better uses of research on improved varieties and other areas. It is clear that not only does ITC support the coffee sector in words- we support it in action.

There are three key aspects I believe are essential to making this resurgence a reality: public-private coordination in sector development, achieving scale in sustainability and empowering women. Let me briefly go through them.

Public-private partnerships are essential

Our experience shows this resurgence can only be possible if there is broad partnership across the sector between international buyers, exporters, producers, public sector and support institutions like ITC.

Issues like aging farmers, decreasing yields from crops, climate change, poor adoption of technology, low productivity and low quality cannot be addressed by any one public sector actor or any exporter in their supply chain alone.

This is especially important in a world where lower prices require us to address all costs in the chain in a systemic way to remain competitive. Though there is ample evidence of the importance of this kind of cooperation, I think it is fair to say that more could be done to foster public-private dialogues in this area in Africa.

Public-private dialogue will be a theme of my meetings with key officials in Burundi: I would be interested to hear from them what they consider to be the country’s priorities in export development. I am certain that coffee will be a priority. It accounts for more than 25% of Burundi’s export earnings and provides livelihoods to hundreds of thousands.

With these numbers whenever a consumer thinks coffee they have to think Burundi. Together we can raise the profile of Burundi as one of the major coffee producers and exporters. We have to create ‘Brand Burundi’!

Burundi has recently liberalized the sector which does offer opportunities to transform it. But there remain a number of challenges that will need to be addressed such as highly variable productions levels.

A Strategic Plan for a National Coffee Sector and a detailed action plan is the way to bring actors together. Our friends at AFCA Burundi have already started thinking about this and have proposed to get us together with Intercafé and ARFIC to talk next steps. I encourage development partners and the government of Burundi to prioritize this and offer our support.

A key part of this is the private sector actively investing in sector development. We increasingly see a formula for sector development that combines aid, trade and investment. Companies must continue to make investments with the public sector in developing suppliers. A healthy overall sector is the only way to ensure supply.

We see a number of good examples of this such as the Kahawatu Foundation right here in Burundi and in the many cases in which roasters and development partners, and even public extension, team up to improve yields and quality.