What are the challenges of sustainability in the coffee industry?

The coffee industry is one of the world's most important agricultural sectors, and millions of small farmers and workers depend on it for their livelihoods. However, the industry also faces a number of sustainability challenges, such as deforestation, water scarcity and climate change.

What are the challenges of sustainability in the coffee industry?

The coffee industry is one of the world's most important agricultural sectors, and millions of small farmers and workers depend on it for their livelihoods. However, the industry also faces a number of sustainability challenges, such as deforestation, water scarcity and climate change. Labor exploitation could be the dirty little secret hidden at the bottom of the cup. From the bean to the cup, coffee production is a process that consists of several intermediate stages: cultivation, harvest, packaging, roasting, transport and distribution.

The lack of visibility in this laborious process makes the coffee supply chain vulnerable to unethical labor practices. At the end of the day, coffee producers work in extreme heat for 10 hours and can only earn between 1% and 3% of the retail price. Sustainability has become a buzzword in recent years, but the long-term economic, environmental and social health of the coffee industry is a vital consideration. The reduction of biodiversity and farmers living in poverty are just some of the problems involved.

The challenges in the coffee sector are not limited to organic ones, according to Nawaz. Labor shortages and price fluctuations are also affecting the industry, echoing Ozdurak's assertion that there is a lack of young people entering the industry. The objective of the challenge is for participating organizations to make commitments related to sustainability, with the vision of making coffee a completely sustainable crop. A sustainable supply chain ranges from sustainable cultivation, through harvesting, to ecological distribution and the fair purchase of grain.

In response to the ecological challenges faced by coffee producers, RA has been implementing regenerative agriculture, “a holistic system that seeks to work in harmony with nature on coffee farms as a solution,” according to Nawaz. Particularly in the coffee industry, some of the main social sustainability challenges include labor issues, gender inequality, and impacts on indigenous communities. Coffee requires colder or warmer tropical climates to grow, and as climate temperatures rise, coffee farmers have to find solutions, such as moving to higher ground. Crosby's introduction to direct trade in the coffee sector helped mark the beginning of Rosso's sustainability story.

So much so, that if current conditions persist unchecked, the world's perfect territories for growing coffee could decrease by 50% by 2050, which would pose an alarmingly real risk to meeting future coffee demand. Innovative thinking, combined with technological competencies, paints an optimistic picture in the midst of the threats to sustainability that lie ahead in traditional agricultural practices. Promoting sustainable coffee consumption is an essential responsibility that falls on both producers and consumers. In a 2003 report on sustainability in the coffee industry, the IISD states that the coffee trade can reinforce gender inequity by maintaining the patriarchal structures of the supply chain.

The coffee category sustainability profile (CSP) identifies environmental and social hotspots and opportunities for improvement throughout the coffee supply chain. Encouraging sustainable cultivation techniques can critically combat climate change and, at the same time, strengthen coffee yields. To address this, the Sustainable Coffee Challenge was created “to make coffee the world's first sustainable agricultural product”. By closing this section, it is clear that the successful transition to sustainable coffee production is facilitated by multifaceted approaches that simultaneously address environmental concerns, economic stability, and social equity.

Glenna Matthys
Glenna Matthys

Hardcore internet practitioner. Wannabe beer advocate. Infuriatingly humble beer expert. Devoted coffee evangelist. Hardcore social media scholar. Friendly beer fanatic.