By Rosemary Trent
Producing a great cup of coffee amid global threats is growing challenge for the world’s coffee growers. In 2003, the SCA Sustainability Council created the Sustainability Award to promote, encourage and celebrate the efforts of those who serve as role models and innovators in the coffee industry.
Yearly applications for the prestigious award showcase the best practices in sustainability from a number of projects and companies across the globe, and it’s never easy for a volunteer council to choose a winner from among the entries.
It was especially difficult in 2016, when the council received a record number of applications. In 2017—for the first time—the SCA Sustainability Council has recognized two winners for the annual award: one recognizing a sustainable project at origin, and another in the new category of sustainable business model.
The Guatemalan Coffee Foundation for Rural Development (Funcafé) received the 2017 Sustainable Project Award for its High School Center with Coffee Specialization program in Guatemala. The first-ever Sustainable Business Model Award was given to the Progreso Foundation for its support of small farms around the globe that rely mainly on family labor.
Created by the National Coffee Association of Guatemala (ANACAFE) in 2011, the Funcafé program leads to a “Baccalaureate in Arts and Science with Coffee Specialization.” These high school centers are an educational alternative aimed at creating new opportunities for young Guatemalans in rural areas by focusing on developing skills that will be relevant to jobs in their communities, particularly in areas related to coffee production. Its goals are to increase the competitiveness of the coffee industry by training professionals with an emphasis on added value and product differentiation, and to train young adults with skills to produce coffee in a sustainable manner.
When it started five years ago, the program had just two students in one high school center. It’s proven so popular, and successful, that by the end of 2017, there will be four high school centers across the country with many more youth working towards completion of this degree.
The center uses a pedagogical model and flexible schedule that responds to the interests, needs and local context of rural youth, who have little access to education and take jobs that do not require academic training. Since the beginning of this program, youth from rural areas have been more involved in the technical production of coffee in their communities.
In addition to improving the quality of education in Guatemala, the High School Centers with Coffee Specialization provide an important link to the labor market for young adults living beyond city limits. The academic program is easily replicable in the coffee regions, as it has a structured methodology endorsed and accredited by the Ministry of Education. It has been well received by young adults in coffee communities, as well as in the companies that employ graduates. In addition, the centers employ local community members, which in turn creates more local job opportunities.
Amsterdam-based Progreso Foundation casts a larger net. Founded in 1998, the NGO works to strengthen producer organizations and other social enterprises supporting smallholder farms in 18 countries around the world. Through an integrated approach that provides access to finance, markets, networks, and trainings on different levels, Progreso sets an example for the specialty coffee sector as a whole.
The foundation reaches more than 120,000 small producers by promoting positive economic, social, and environmental efforts among the members and their communities. It has pioneered working capital models and supported innovative initiatives that have not only been mainstreamed, but also have kick-started new programs such as Grow Ahead, ProClimate, ProCacao, and Progreso Network.
Their unique approach is based on the belief that positive impact requires a holistic intervention model as part of a long-term process. Progreso works with small start-ups for a period of between four to seven years to create a strong, consolidated organization capable of improving services to its members. It also connects people across a global network within the coffee and cocoa sectors to find creative, innovative, and shared solutions.
Without healthy coffee communities that thrive and provide a decent income for workers, the future of coffee—in particular of Specialty Coffee—does not look very good. That’s why Progreso works with producer organizations to become catalysts of change in their communities. That includes promoting cultivation of coffee under agro-forestry systems, which helps farmers adapt to climate change so they can keep producing some beautiful, high quality coffees.
The foundation also actively works with local cooperatives to engage women in all training and activities, so they, too, can benefit from work in the coffee business. Initiatives such as sponsoring a soccer league of youth in Uganda, together with coffee business training, further encourages young people to be part of the coffee business in their countries and work toward a better future.
Rosemary Trent is the Chair of the Awards Committee for the SCA Sustainability Council.