Post COVID-19 resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa: What role for coffee companies?

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The pandemic has had devastating repercussions for coffee producers with no other sources of income. The pandemic has had devastating repercussions for coffee producers with no other sources of income.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the coffee sector has a triple function: economic, social and environmental. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the pandemic led to a global decrease in prices of 30% in 2020. Job losses threaten millions of people, who could be plunged into poverty and food insecurity because of lost  jobs and income.

Coffee companies across Africa are involved in all stages of the coffee value chain. Their role in the resilience of the coffee sector is key. In that context, the 2021 World Bank Youth Summit offered selected participants a chance to make recommendations for strengthening the sustainability of a coffee company in Africa. This post expands on the recommendations made, illustrating the role that coffee companies can play in integrating social and environmental principles that contribute to the resilience of the sector.

The guide to help coffee companies adjust their sustainability strategy is based on the IFC’s the framework of eight performance standards. This post focuses on Standard 1 (Assessment and management of environmental and social risks) and Standard 6 (Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources), the two areas most affected by the pandemic.

Ensure permanent health protection for coffee producers and workers

The main challenge encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic was access to health protection equipment. In Ethiopia, 49% of coffee farmers did not have access to an adequate health system.

IFC standard 1, sees a role for coffee companies to develop an emergency plan for health risks. This implies providing producers and workers with protective equipment (masks, soap, etc.) and an efficient health system (infirmary, hand washing sinks, vaccines etc.)

Efforts were made by coffee companies like Olam Specialty Coffee, which has put in place an emergency medical response plan to share medical supplies with 1,100 coffee households in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the pandemic. To mitigate future shock, coffee companies in Africa should develop a partnership with local authorities to facilitate access and distribution of protective equipment in the event of border closures and confinement.

Improve and diversify the income of coffee producers

The pandemic had devastating repercussions for coffee producers with no other sources of income. In Zimbabwe, 22% of farmers lost their income. Coffee companies have a dual role in meeting this challenge considering IFC Standards 1 and 6.

First, coffee companies must improve the income of coffee producers by finding outlets to sell their coffee outside of exporting countries from Europe.

By using digital technology, coffee companies could develop applications that make it easy for producers to sell their product directly in local and sub-regional markets. The Beyco platform, which enabled coffee cooperatives to sell their coffee during the pandemic, is just one example. In Côte d'Ivoire, the CICAO cooperative used Beyco to sell nearly 5,000 tons of coffee in 2020.

Second, coffee companies must help producers diversify their sources of income by adopting good agricultural practices.

The development of agroforestry in coffee farms by introducing food crops or fruit trees is a good method that can mitigate climate change and ensure food security and income for people. The World Bank and IFC are piloting projects in East Africa for the sustainable coffee sector with the adoption of good agricultural practices. Coffee companies should establish partnerships with these institutions to pilot projects aimed at improving and diversifying producers' incomes, a win-win for both producers and buyers.

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