Three ways to support the sustainable resurgence of the African coffee industry

13 February 2014
ITC News

Speech by Ms. Arancha González, Executive Director, International Trade Centre
Delivered on 13 February 2014 at the 11th African Fine Coffee Conference and Exhibition, Bujumbura, Burundi


Rt. Honorable Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi
Mr Oliveira Silva, Executive Director of the International Coffee Organization
Mr Kalua, Chairman of African Fine Coffee Association (AFCA)
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today. The International Trade Centre (ITC) very much appreciates the continued collaboration we have with AFCA which has most recently been embodied in the co-development of a strategy for women and youth in coffee across the continent.

Allow me to congratulate AFCA for their successes over these past 11 years and to offer you our support in your move to expand from East Africa to the full continent. I already see this as paying dividends with the presence of Central and West African countries here today.

A special thanks to Executive Director Samuel Kamau for his openness to the collaboration and for inviting me to address you this morning.

I was heartened by the theme of this conference: the Sustainable Resurgence of the African Coffee Industry. ITC is a believer in the growth and employment creating potential of the African Coffee sector. We have worked with the sector in Cameroon, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the countries of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAs) to develop strategies to re-launch their production. We have updated the National Export Strategy in coffee for Uganda. We support the Inter-African Coffee Organization (IACO) in their efforts to support the resurgence of the public sector and better uses of research on improved varieties and other areas. It is clear that not only does ITC support the coffee sector in words- we support it in action.

There are three key aspects I believe are essential to making this resurgence a reality: public-private coordination in sector development, achieving scale in sustainability and empowering women. Let me briefly go through them.

Public-private partnerships are essential

Our experience shows this resurgence can only be possible if there is broad partnership across the sector between international buyers, exporters, producers, public sector and support institutions like ITC.

Issues like aging farmers, decreasing yields from crops, climate change, poor adoption of technology, low productivity and low quality cannot be addressed by any one public sector actor or any exporter in their supply chain alone. This is especially important in a world where lower prices require us to address all costs in the chain in a systemic way to remain competitive. Though there is ample evidence of the importance of this kind of cooperation, I think it is fair to say that more could be done to foster public-private dialogues in this area in Africa.

Public-private dialogue will be a theme of my meetings with key officials in Burundi: I would be interested to hear from them what they consider to be the country's priorities in export development. I am certain that coffee will be a priority. It accounts for more than 25% of Burundi’s export earnings and provides livelihoods to hundreds of thousands. With these numbers whenever a consumer thinks coffee they have to think Burundi. Together we can raise the profile of Burundi as one of the major coffee producers and exporters. We have to create 'Brand Burundi'!

Burundi has recently liberalized the sector which does offer opportunities to transform it. But there remain a number of challenges that will need to be addressed such as highly variable productions levels.

A Strategic Plan for a National Coffee Sector and a detailed action plan is the way to bring actors together. Our friends at AFCA Burundi have already started thinking about this and have proposed to get us together with Intercafé and ARFIC to talk next steps. I encourage development partners and the government of Burundi to prioritize this and offer our support.

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. Companies must continue to make investments with the public sector in developing suppliers. A healthy overall sector is the only way to ensure supply. We see a number of good examples of this such as the Kahawatu Foundation right here in Burundi and in the many cases in which roasters and development partners, and even public extension, team up to improve yields and quality.

Achieving scale in sustainability

Another area we believe is critical is to achieve scale in sustainability by reducing complexity and costs and increasing support to producers. Under our Trade for Sustainable Development (T4SD) programme ITC catalogues standards information and acts as a neutral party in providing information and advice to suppliers across a wide range of sectors.
In coffee, we have all the major recognized standards such as 4C, Organic, Fair Trade, Utz, Rainforest Alliance. The proliferation of standards raises costs and increases complexity for producers who want to improve their compliance.

T4SD started as a way to collect data and improve transparency. Today we are at the center of sustainability standards, allowing us to act as a force for convergence and inter-operability of standards. Making standards less complex and more comparable can significantly increase their positive impact and help developing producers to better recognize and reach them. We see our friends at 4C taking very much the same approach as part of their platform.

To complement the move towards convergence, we must also challenge ourselves to find ways to make certification and compliance more affordable and easier. In 2014 we are launching a self-assessment tool to allow producers to benchmark themselves and eventually report against a range of standards at the same time. We are running pilots in multiple sectors with GIZ (German Society for International Cooperation), IDH (the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative) and others to link this self-assessment directly to technical assistance and reporting. If successful, this could become a universal tool for standards to benchmark, report and target technical assistance to suppliers across multiple sectors.

Empowering women

The final element in the resurgence of African coffee, and the point that brings me here today, is empowering women.

In 2008, ITC and AFCA conducted a survey on the role of women and the potential for unlocking their potential in the coffee sector. With DFID’s support and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), ITC implemented a project to empower women across five East African countries which resulted in the founding of IWCA chapters across East Africa and impressive sales from women directly to buyers. Through our Women Vendors Forum and Exhibition, most recently in Mexico in 2012, we have promoted millions of dollars of sales in coffee and other sectors. The women participating report higher levels of confidence, more developed business networks and a more prominent role in decision-making.

2014 is an important moment. There is recognition that the business case for empowering women is strong in terms of productivity, quality and other areas. It is now time to “walk the talk” by supporting gender mainstreaming and programmes specifically designed to mentor women all along the value chain. There are a number of examples that were put forward during the women and coffee meetings earlier this week including buyer-mentor groups that bring buyers and potential women-owned suppliers together to exchange information and build medium-term relationships.

We have joined a number of partners, along with AFCA, in developing a concept called “Coffee is Cool” which we presented to industry two days ago. This is designed to support AFCA in creating coherence in gender and youth initiatives across the industry in Africa.

I am also happy to announce that, with the generous support of UKAid, ITC is in the process of launching its second phase of the Women in Coffee project. It will support women in linking with buyers and providers of technical assistance. And we will be making our most intense investment right here in Burundi, with Isabelle and Angel from our IWCA Burundi chapter as well as all the other partners on the ground.

This year the ITC celebrates its 50th Anniversary. To mark this special moment we will host the World Export Development Forum in Kigali Rwanda, the first ever in Africa and in an LDC. WEDF brings together the smartest people from business, government and support institutions to deal with burning topics in export development. This year we will focus on Linking SMEs: Creating Jobs through Trade. We will also have a strong focus on B2B, including liking women entrepreneurs with buyers, and you can be assured that coffee will feature prominently. I invite you all to join us in Rwanda in mid-September.

Thanks once again to AFCA for this opportunity and looking forward to continuing our partnership.