Recent Innovations in the Coffee Industry

Recent Innovations in the Coffee Industry

It is often the case that during the coffee production life cycle, we overlook the environmental pressures that have been created by the growing demand for coffee. Seeing concurrent years of global production deficits and increasing strains from climate pressures, we start to wonder how will coffee start to ‘get ahead’, or can it?

But what we have seen time and time again is that from pressure comes opportunity, which often results in innovation. As the story goes with so many agricultural endeavours, increases in education and awareness has shed light on the environmental impacts associated with the cultivation of coffee. Often named in the affected is deforestation, intensive water usage, and the use of harmful chemicals, just to name a few.

With sustainability becoming a focus point for many industries and an increasingly important concern for coffee consumers, coffee producers are being driven to seek innovative ways to reduce their environmental impact, while balancing a profitable operation. As we look to do better and increase enthusiasm within the industry, we have taken a look at some of the leading practices being adopted around the globe to help reduce impacts.

On a farm level, we see biodiversity as one of the key concerns in the coffee industry. Often farmers reduce natural forests to make room for the cultivation of coffee, and for many years farming has been a contributor to deforestation and the decline of diversity of forest life. According to Aaron Davis, Head of Coffee Research at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK, 60% of 124 wild coffee species are under threat of extinction due to changes in land use and deforestation, exacerbated by climate change. His team also discovered the importance of coffee forests and their ability to produce resistant varieties, which can be then developed and cultivated. We have seen many of the Central American governments start to offer farmers incentives for reforestation and oxygen production. With Guatemala being a place of note, subsidisation is offered to landowners for every tree they plant and maintain for up to 20 years. Farmers have used this to help offset the operational costs of their farms, while increasing biodiversity and providing wildlife with a sanctuary to return to.

Further studies have found that shade grown coffee farms with diversity in tree species attract higher levels of biodiversity, supporting more pest-loving bird species than sun grown coffee farms. These shade grown coffee farms can in turn assist with pollination and pest control. Not only does shade grown coffee create a more diverse habitat, but it also requires fewer chemicals, reduces erosion, draws up minerals and nutrients for shallow rooted plants, and protects light sensitive plants from the sun. When coffee plants are intercropped with other tree species, it can also remove carbon from the atmosphere. There are several initiatives that support shade grown coffee farms. One such project is the Shade Grown Coffee Project, managed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre. This project helps farmers in Central and South America grow coffee under a diverse canopy of trees, while providing the education on how to manage their farms for increasing biodiversity. When participating in this initiative, it allows producer’s coffee to be certified under its ‘Bird Friendly’ label.

While looking at the diversity of native life in the coffee industry, we also look at supporting sustainability. With producers making huge efforts in the world of biodiversity, there are things as consumers that we can do to support their efforts on our end. Consumers can seek out coffee companies that are certified as B Corporations. These are businesses that prioritise social and environmental responsibility, alongside financial performance. While certifications like Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade are still valuable, B Corp certification offers a more comprehensive evaluation of a company’s social and environmental impact, compelling them to improve year after year. By supporting these types of businesses, consumers can help the wider public to embrace and adopt sustainable practices, making them the norm in the coffee industry.

These sustainable practices give producers access to a range of further training and ensures that coffee farmers receive fair pricing for their product. The answers are not as simple as buying ‘single origin’ or ‘shade grown’ coffee, though it is an important part of the solution. Sustainable coffee farming is complex and multifaceted. It requires a holistic approach, one that encompasses practices that concern biodiversity, agroforestry, and sustainable fertilisers to name a few. While initiatives such as shade grown coffee and agroforestry practices have shown promise in improving soil health and creating biodiversity, it is also important to acknowledge the social and economic systems which drive the coffee industry. We as consumers, roasters and green coffee buyers can help drive the shift towards wanting a more ecological economy. One that prioritises community welfare, environmental well-being, quality goods over profit, and growth is essential for a long-term sustainability model for the supply chain and overall, our planet. It is only by supporting sustainable coffee farming practices and promoting these systemic changes that we can ensure coffee will stick around for future generations of producers and consumers.