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Special Edition Magazine, Fall 2019: Sustainability

Sustained by Sustainable Coffee

Drinking coffee is not necessarily a bad habit, but it can contribute to bad outcomes, including environmental degradation and labor exploitation. Fortunately, we have the knowledge and tools we need to clean up the industry.

NEW YORK – “Men’s natures are alike,” Confucius observed; “it is their habits that carry them far apart.” But there is one habit that unites people worldwide: coffee. The question, asked at the World Coffee Producers Forum in July, is whether the world’s coffee habit – and the industry that enables it – is sustainable.

As one of the world’s most popular beverages, coffee is crucial to the livelihoods of over 125 million people in more than 50 countries. Some 80% of the world’s coffee is grown on 25 million smallholder farms. For these producers, coffee typically represents the main, or even the only, source of income.

For smallholders, a bad crop or low prices translates into severe economic strain. This is what is happening today in Colombia and Central America, parts of Africa, and Asia, as farmers confront the lowest international coffee prices in a decade, as well as serious production challenges, including those arising from increasingly extreme weather conditions caused by climate change.

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