From the crop to the cup: The good fortune of some green beans

by Daniela Cuneo

Coffee is one of the most widely-consumed drinks around the world: Millions of people (and yes, I am one of those!) just can’ t think of starting their day without  a good cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the word coffee is a word borrowed from the Arabic word  “qahwah” which means “power” . Power as energy for coffee drinkers and power as ability for smallholder coffee producers of developing countries  to penetrate the markets for certified sustainable products, markets that open up opportunities to produce sustainably, cost-effectively and sell the crop at remunerative prices.
But how can smallholder coffee producers make the most out of their crop if they don’t have a sense of the complexity of these  markets?
Too often their  hard work does not translate into  decent incomes and the reason is very simple;  their coffee beans do not meet the standards required by the market therefore they are sold for few pennies or even worst they remain unsold!! 
Coffee consumers are  not all the same! They have different tastes, they love different blends  and they are very demanding!. That’s why,  for coffee buyers  the big challenge is to find different and special green beans for their coffee blends and for producers is to cultivate  the right coffee beans.  But what is the relationship between coffee producers and buyers? In most cases none!
Producers don’t know what happens to their harvest  once it leaves their countries, buyers don’t know how producers  grow and process their coffee beans and they never have the chance to talk to each other.
But this is not what is happening to smallholder coffee producers  of developing countries who are participating in an innovative programme funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)  known as SAMCERT,  Strengthening Smallholders’  Access to Markets for Certified Sustainable Products .

Building bridges along the coffee value chain of IFAD-funded projects: a capacity building initiative.

Thanks  to SAMCERT , a three years partnership initiative with the  Ethical and Environmental Certification Institute (ICEA ) and  the Sustainable Commodity Initiative (SCI) ,  IFAD project representatives from Sao Tome and Principe (Genito and Nelson) , Nicaragua (Julio, Merlín, Wilmer and Denis), Dominican Republic (Maria and Rufino) and Papua New Guinea (Rose and Esther) came to Italy in December 2013 and had the opportunity for the first time ever in their life to:

• Take a close look at Italian roasting companies  and coffee retailers

•    Experience the magic of the roasting

•    Enjoy the true flavour of roasted coffee beans

•    Refine their sense of smell to ascertain the properties of the green beans !

•    Appreciate the different qualities of the green beans

•    Capture the key phases of the roasting process

•    Learn how roasting is done

•    And actually ……….do it!

•    Understand the role that technology plays in the production  process

•    Exchange coffee beans from IFAD-funded projects with Italian roasters

•    Be briefed at ICEA HQ on SAMCERT objectives and the key pillars of the certification process

•    Hear from Italian coffee buyers what kind of coffee they are looking for

•    Participate in a coffee cupping exercise at IFAD and have their  coffee samples assessed by Italian coffee experts from Café Latino!

To my surprise and I guess to the ones of the IFAD project representatives, the  coffee beans have a sort of “ DNA“ which unveils , though a number of tests , how the beans are grown and processed so no secrets for the coffee tasting experts! The best  beans were the beans from Nicaragua  but also the ones from the other countries had lot of strengths. In terms of weaknesses, all of them had a few and the Italian coffee experts offered technical solutions and advice to overcome them .
As Alessio Baschieri ( Associazione Caffè Latino)” said, “there is no such thing as good coffee. There are coffees that consumers choose. The challenge consist in assessing  the qualities  of our coffee beans and  build linkages with the markets  that appreciate them. ” 

Thanks to this initiative,  which was organized by SAMCERT and supported by “Caffe’Terzi” , “ L’albero del caffe’Caffe’Corsini, Comitato Italiano Caffe’ , “Cooperazione Italiana” ,  the  Istituto Agronomico per l'Oltremare (IAO) and " Associazione Caffè Latino", IFAD  project representatives went back to their countries with  a clearer understanding of the Italian market requirements, the standards they have to meet in order to penetrate in the market of certified coffee. In few hours some of them will  be in Nurnberg to participate in Biofach 2014 and they will get an opportunity to present their  beans to coffee buyers from all over the world and as a result truly put their business flair into practice. I wish them the best of success and I’ll be lucky enough to see them in action. So watch this space to find out how well they are doing! To know more follow # BioFachVivaness #ifad

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