A better blend needed to energize Africa's coffee sector

26 February 2014
ITC News
Twelve deals signed during opening ceremony of Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum

Fostering public-private coordination in sector development, achieving scale in sustainability and empowering women are the three keys needed to revive the African coffee industry.

Targeting these three aspects will fuel economic growth and employment creation in the African coffee sector, according to Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC).

Ms. González spokeon the theme of ‘Sustainable Resurgence of the African Coffee Industry’ at the 11th African Fine Coffee Conference and Exhibition in Bujumbura, Burundi, on 13 February.

The first step is to create a partnership among international buyers, exporters, producers, the public sector and trade support institutions to address issues such as ageing farmers, decreasing crop yields, climate change, low adoption of technology and low quality. Burundi’s recently liberalized sector, for example, offers a swath of opportunities, but challenges remain.

‘A strategic plan for a national coffee sector and a detailed action plan are the ways to bring actors [in Burundi] together,’ Ms. González said. ‘A key part of this is the private sector actively investing in sector development. We increasingly see a formula for sector development that combines aid, trade and investment.’

The second goal is to achieve scale in sustainability by reducing complexity and costs, while increasing support to producers. Under its Trade for Sustainable Development programme, for example, ITC has developed Standards Map, an online database that allows users to find information on sustainability standards and compare standards requirements.

‘Making standards less complex and more comparable can significantly increase their positive impact,’ Ms. González said. ‘We must also challenge ourselves to find ways to make certification and compliance more affordable and easier.’

The unlocked potential of women

Ms. González also stressed the need to unlock the potential of women entrepreneurs in the coffee sector. 

‘The business case for empowering women is strong in terms of productivity, quality and other areas,’ she said. ‘It is now time to “walk the talk” by supporting gender mainstreaming and programmes specifically designed to mentor women all along the value chain.’

ITC has also cooperated with the UK's Department for International Development and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) to implement a project to empower women across five East African countries. This has led to the founding of IWCA chapters across East Africa and sales from women directly to buyers.

During the African Fine Coffee Conference and Exhibition, the IWCA chapter of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was launched. This will support and allow Congolese women coffee producers to take control of their income to benefit not only themselves, but their families and communities.

ITC is now in the process of launching the second phase of its Women in Coffee project, to support women in linking with buyers and providers of technical assistance.

Read ITC Executive Director Arancha González’s full speech for more information.