SCAA USAID Global Coffee Article - 2000

Tea & Coffee Journal
December 2000


                                 Impact at Origin

                   Specialty Coffee Takes the Lead

                                                            By Mike Ferguson, SCAA



If you're a 7.5 billion dollar US government agency responsible

for humanitarian and development assistance programs around

the world, you cannot ignore coffee. It's almost everywhere

your numerous field offices are: Africa, Asia, Latin America.

You cannot not ignore the difficulties facing so many

smallholder coffee farmers, the majority worldwide. At the

same time, you cannot not ignore the need for environmentally

sustainable solutions within your agricultural assistance

programs. Finally, as you come to realize that quality and

sustainability are intrinsically linked to improving the lives of

coffee farmers, you cannot ignore the Specialty Coffee

Association of America.


A Memorandum of Understanding signed recently between

SCAA's Specialty Coffee Institute and the US Agency for

International Development (USAID) puts the specialty coffee

industry at the forefront of sustainable growth for the coffee

industry worldwide.


While the US Agency for International Development has been

active in the coffee industry at origin for some time, it cannot be

said that their goals were always in line with those of the

specialty coffee sector. In the past, USAID projects focused on

improving yield and developing production practices that did

not always make quality a primary consideration. In recent

years, however, USAID began to realize that the traditional

commodity approaches that had worked well with many

agricultural products were neither economically nor

environmentally sustainable in the long term, especially for

smallholder coffee farmers.


This evolution in USAID's approach allowed a quality driven

coffee project to emerge in Peru's Apurimac River Valley.

Partnering with Seattle's Best Coffee Company and the

nonprofit rural development organization, Winrock

International, USAID funded the renovation of over 2,000

hectares of coffee land over a four-year period, making

substantial improvements in both harvesting and processing

practices. While USAID provided the funding, Winrock

worked within the farm communities, and Seattle's Best Coffee

provided high profile market access. The positive results

prompted Michael Maxey from the USAID Peru office to

explore the idea of using the Peru model worldwide. While

seeking potential private sector partners, those who

understood, or were at least attempting to address, the interplay

between quality and sustainability, Maxey found the SCAA.

Suddenly, "global reach" seemed like a real possibility.


Passion and Promise


Perhaps no other word in the coffee industry carries with it so

complex a mixture of passion and promise than "origin." There

is the history and romance of the coffee farm, the tangible sense

of every cup of coffee being descendant from the soil. There is

the connection, so critical to the success of the specialty coffee

sector, to places far away and exotic, endlessly unique and

unknowable except through the cup: the earth of Yemen, the

mean seas off Sumatra, the rainforests of Guatemala. Then

there is the dependency inherent in the word itself. The

livelihood of every single person in the coffee industry originates

in coffee lands, is born of the plants and those who tend them

and harvest their fruit.


The specialty coffee industry has been defined to a great degree

by its ability to lay hold of the passion and promise of origin:

Not only is coffee not a commodity, but the potential variety is

virtually endless when quality attends, as are the number of

appreciative consumers. The specialty coffee industry has also

been defined by its ability to bring change to the coffee industry

as a whole: changes in marketing, changes in product

categories, and most important, changes in the relationship with

coffee producers. For members of SCAA, this growing

leadership role is supported by their commitment to three

axioms: 1) Hear all the "voices;" 2) Maintain a "big tent;" and 3)

Advocate for "new possibilities."


The realization of these leadership ideals was demonstrated

recently as a perfectly normal fall morning in Seattle-overcast, a

slight chill in the air-was the setting for a perfectly unusual

gathering. Two dozen people huddled outside a downtown

coffeehouse to watch the signing of a Memorandum of

Understanding between SCAA's Specialty Coffee Institute

(SCI) and The US Agency for International Development.

Most were there as witnesses, including several local coffee

industry leaders, whose very presence itself bore witness to the

true size of the event: C.J. Neilson, Marketing Director at

Millstone Coffee Company; Dave Olsen, Senior Vice President

of Starbucks; and Jim Stewart, Chairman and Co-founder of

Seattle's Best Coffee, which hosted the event.


The signatories were USAID Administrator, J. Brady

Anderson; SCI Chairman, Douglas Carpenter, from Ronnoco

Importing Company, and SCAA Executive Director, Ted

Lingle, signing as an SCI Trustee. The dictionary definition of

synergy being "a mutually advantageous conjunction," the MOU

signing represented one of those rare moments when it is

actually the correct word to use.


Describing this "conjunction," Ted Lingle has said, "What both

SCAA's Specialty Coffee Institute and USAID realize is that

quality is the fruit of the sustainable tree. In order to have lasting

economic impact, smallholder coffee farmers need technological

assistance in producing high quality coffees that will result in the

higher prices they need to begin or continue sustainable

agricultural practices, preserving environmentally sensitive areas

while enhancing the lives of the farm workers who live in them.

Quality of the product, quality of the environment, and quality of

life for the farmer are inseparably bundled together."


SCI Chairman, Doug Carpenter commented in his opening

remarks, "This signing ceremony is to formally establish our

mutual commitment in promoting environmentally-sound coffee,

of enhanced quality, that will benefit, not only the smallholder

farmers in developing countries, but also the ultimate consumer

of that product. To be able to raise the bar of quality, and at the

same time, hopefully, make a meaningful difference in people's

lives, will be for me, a most humbling and gratifying experience."


The MOU is a fulfillment of SCI's mission to integrate advances

in science and technology with practical applications in

agriculture and industry that lead to continuing improvements in

all aspects of coffee quality from seed to cup. Participation with

USAID creates the opportunity for funding from non-industry

donors who have similar goals.USAID Administrator, Brady

Anderson, noted that by working together, SCI and USAID

"can make a real, lasting impact on improving the lives of

people in the countries where coffee is grown."


For USAID, the Memorandum fits within its existing mission to

manage US foreign economic and humanitarian assistance

programs around the world through a variety of development

partners, including indigenous organizations, universities,

American businesses, international agencies, other governments,

and other U.S. government agencies. In announcing the signing

internally, USAID noted that a partnership with the coffee

industry is "a means to achieve USAID's complementary goals

of economic growth and environmental protection.

Collaborative activities with this industry could significantly raise

the incomes of small farmers in 30 countries where USAID is



This particular partnership with SCAA/SCI is unique in that it is

the first time USAID has signed an MOU with a private

industry group. It is a direct testimonial to the lead role that

SCAA and SCI are now playing in the coffee industry.


The hard work and vision of USAID's Michael Maxey's led to

SCAA/SCI submitting a coffee proposal to the Agency. The

proposal was named the "Global Coffee Framework for

Cooperative Action," a sixteen point program designed to serve

as a blueprint for coffee development activities that lead to

higher qualities for consumers and favorable prices for

producers. USAID accepted the proposal as the basis for joint

actions and drafted the Memorandum of Understanding setting

forth the intentions of both parties with regards to the shared

goals of promoting private sector approaches that are

environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically



At the heart of this mutually advantageous conjunction of

industry and government is a concern for equitable use of

shared resources for current and future generations, a place

where the interests of coffee, development, and conservation all

converge. Ted Lingle has commented, "If we are going to make

meaningful changes, we have to operate together within an

overall framework, a framework that serves the self-interests of

both consumers and producers worldwide while respecting the

sovereignty of the peoples, institutions, and countries involved in

coffee commerce. We have to realize that it is possible for

meaningful change in rural farm communities to be consumer



As various partnerships, like that between Winrock

International and Seattle's Best Coffee, begin to form, the

MOU will provide navigation points for the projects that

emerge from these partnerships. Far from being a ceremonial

document, the language within the MOU makes clear the values

upon which projects will be based


· Environmentally Sound Coffee Production

· Small-holder Farmers and Farmer Organizations

· Improving the Quality of Coffee Produced for Export

· Private-sector Approaches

· Socially Just

· Economically Sustainable

· Investment in Production and Marketing Efforts


In the end, it was the inclusion of a market access component

that made the Peru project truly viable. While there is a tradition

within the specialty coffee industry of roasters and roaster

retailers developing relationships in farm communities, and even

providing resources for improving production, the projects

imagined within the MOU are perhaps more far reaching and

"holistic" in their intent. Attention to questions of market access

that go beyond just a "marketing plan" will be critical.


Part of the coalescence that led to the writing of the MOU

included SCAA's development of "Project Marketing

Partners." Project Marketing Partners established parameters

for this type of collaborative action just as SCI and USAID

were beginning their initial discussions. Development of a

comprehensive coffee agronomic model, patterned after the

wine industry, requires industry-wide supports on an

international level and investment funding from outside the

coffee farm sector, a combination inaugurated by the MOU

signing. SCAA's Project Marketing Partners provides a much

needed model for market access outside traditional commodity



 Memorandum of Understanding is a little like a promise ring.

It's not exactly an "engagement," and it's certainly not a

marriage. It is a symbol of intent; or at least, a symbol of all the

intent that can be mustered at the time. What a promise ring

may lack in the way of well defined commitments for the future,

it more than makes up for in passion for that which defines it:

The Promise. From the perspective of the specialty coffee

industry, it is well past time for the promise of origin to continue

full circle.

"What both SCAA's Specialty Coffee Institute and USAID

realize is that quality is the fruit of the sustainable tree. In order

to have lasting economic impact, smallholder coffee farmers

need technological assistance in producing high quality




Michael M.,
Sep 10, 2009, 8:29 PM