Source: Reuters // Reuters
* Pledge for all European coffee to be “sustainable” by 2015
* Coffee demand rising but long-term supply threatened
* Need to improve farmers’ skills not just income
* Certification faces challenges as sustainability goes mainstream
By Emma Thomasson
ZURICH, Nov 15 (Reuters) – The coffee industry risks running short of beans in coming years if it does not promote more sustainable farming methods, according to the global head of coffee at Mondelez International Inc, the company carved out of Kraft Foods Inc last month.
“If we talk about total coffee availability, in 10-15 years we will have an issue of total supply,” Hubert Weber, Mondelez president of global coffee, told Reuters in an interview at the firm’s European headquarters in Zurich.
Mondelez, which owns many of Europe’s top coffee brands including Jacobs, Carte Noire and Kenco as well as labels like Cadbury’s chocolate, Trident gum and Oreo biscuits, was split off last month from Kraft’s North American grocery business.
The buyer of 6 percent of total world coffee production, Mondelez has pledged to source all of its European coffee from “sustainable” farms by 2015, up from about 40 percent now. Weber said Mondelez was already targeting 65 percent for 2013.
“We can only make a change if one of the big guys makes a commitment,” Weber said, adding Mondelez decided on the pledge due to a surplus of sustainably-farmed coffee two years ago.
“We want to make sure there is sufficient coffee supply of a certain quality in the long term.”
Weber said Mondelez had started the initiative for its European coffee products as consumers on the continent were more demanding on sustainability but said it ultimately wanted to extend the plan to its other regions.
Weber said worldwide coffee consumption was rising by 2-3 percent a year and that long-term supply was threatened by environmentally-damaging farming methods as well as farmers switching to other crops or abandoning their land completely.
He cited the example of Colombia where coffee production is just a third what it used to be and said coffee producers like Peru and Vietnam were also threatened by similar trends.
TEACH FARMERS TO “FISH”
Before the revolution which has seen retailers sign up to initiatives like the Rainforest Alliance, multinationals were criticised for maximising profits at the expense of the environment and farmers. High coffee prices have eased farmers’ problems but they still make a tiny proportion of the industry’s profit compared to multinationals.
Weber said simple steps like better pruning, growing trees that shade coffee plants as well as other crops can boost farmers’ yields but were not being applied consistently.
“We want to make sure that farmers have the appropriate incentive to farm coffee and not shift into biofuel crops where they can make maybe more money faster,” he said.
“We do not want to give fish to the farmers. We want to teach them how to fish,” he said, adding that just increasing farmers’ incomes was not enough. “When the coffee price spiked one or two years ago, if you just pass on money, the farmers buy a new SUV or an additional bag of new fertiliser and dump it on the ground rather than doing something fundamental.”
Mondelez, whose biggest competitor in coffee is Nestle , announced last month it is investing $200 million in training programmes aimed at improving the livelihoods of 1 million farmers, seeking to boost productivity and make coffee farming an attractive profession for future generations.
Weber said the company is already the largest buyer of coffee certified by the non-profit group Rainforest Alliance but said certification faced a challenge to maintain credibility as the sustainability drive goes mainstream and consumers were bombarded by multiple claims on packaging.
“We have to evolve as an industry to get to closer standardisation and cooperation because … we’ve got to make sure that we have auditing mechanisms in place,” he said.
Ultimately, the need for such certification should dwindle as sustainable practices become more widely adopted, he said.
“In 10-15 years’ times when we have evolved the whole industry, there should not be the need for so much push. It should become natural and of course the role of labels should become less,” he said.