Recap: Avance, SCA’s First Sustainability Conference

Recap: Avance, SCA’s First Sustainability Conference

By Lily Kubota

On the morning of October 11, 2017, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) welcomed over 150 coffee producers, buyers, traders, roasters, and other coffee industry professionals to Anacafé—the Guatemalan national coffee association headquartered in Guatemala City—for the first-ever SCA sustainability conference: Avance. The purpose of this two-day event was to engage sustainability leaders and passionate advocates from across the coffee value chain, and provide them with an opportunity to learn from experts and from one another about global issues affecting the coffee sector.

This also marked the first SCA conference to be held in the context of a producing country, which informed much of the discussion. Avance was designed to be inclusive of roles and experience levels across the coffee industry, as well as of English and Spanish speakers—and with over 80 Spanish-speaking attendees present, Avance sessions were conducted largely in Spanish. Translation services were available to those who required it, in both English and Spanish.

“I am thrilled that Avance included so many stakeholders to specialty coffee from Central America, many of whom had never before attended an SCA event,” says Kim Elena Ionescu, the Chief Sustainability Officer for the SCA. “Ours is a global industry and sustaining this industry will require more dialogue with, inclusion of, and leadership by producers, so it’s imperative that we create more opportunities for cross-supply-chain, cross-cultural collaborations like Avance. ”

The first day of the event consisted of lectures, panel discussions, and dialogue on the topics of climate change, farm worker rights and labor issues, and coffee production economics. Ionescu welcomed attendees to the event, describing its history and purpose. During her introduction, she noted the fact that many SCA members have identified labor, profitability, climate change, prioritizing future supply, and supporting producers as critical to the role of the SCA. This was followed by a brief introduction by Ricardo Arenas, President of Anacafé, who shared some of the challenges to the sustainability of coffee production from his perspective.

In the first presentation, “PROMECAFE at the World Producers Forum: Results to Date and Next Steps,” René Leon Gomez of PROMECAFE— the Regional Cooperative Program for the Technical Development and Modernization of Coffee Cultivation, which is headquartered in Guatemala City—discussed farmer profitability. During his presentation, Leon explored key factors influencing the economics of the coffee farm, the gaps that remain, and the relationship between coffee quality and farm profitability.

Michael Sheridan of Intelligentsia Coffee, carried on this conversation with his talk, “Profitability: Beyond Costs of Production.” Sheridan provided insights and used data from the SCA Economics of the Coffee Supply Chain study to shed light on coffee’s costs beyond the production stages and connect those costs to the obstacles to profitability that farmers face.

In the Profitability Panel Discussion, moderator Vera Espindola of SAGARPA, Mexico’s Department of Agriculture, spoke with panelists Michael Sheridan, Rene León, Juan Luis Barrios (Finca La Merced), and Carlos Reynoso (Manos Campesinos). Each shared their own perspectives, and a lively dialogue took place among the speakers—as well as attendees, who were able to ask questions and participate in the dialogue.

The next session focused on farm workers and the sustainability of the labor market in coffee. In her talk, “Farm Workers: Key Partners for the Viability and Success of the Coffee Industry,” Angela Pelaez of RGC Coffee highlighted the importance of farm workers to the entire coffee value chain and the challenges we face as an industry. She presented as a case study a collaborative project in Aguadas, Colombia that has brought a producer cooperative, farm workers, an importer, two certification bodies, and the SCA together with researchers to develop programs that benefit all parties.

In the Farm Worker Panel Discussion, moderator Michael Sheridan spoke with Brandie Sasser (US Department of Labor), Colleen Popkin (Keurig Green Mountain), and Marlene Mazariegos (Cámara del Agro de Guatemala) about their experiences and perspectives on working with coffee producers—and what can be done to improve our practices to ensure better livelihoods for farm workers.

The final session of the day was on the topic of climate change. In her talk, “Climate Change: Adapting to a New Norm,” Iris Alvarado of Honduras’s Café Capucas discussed the impact that climate change is already having on their cooperative and its members, and shared strategies to mitigate those impacts including diversification at the farm level and competitions and awards at the cooperative level.

Next, Michelle Deugd of Rainforest Alliance—in her presentation, “Climate Change: Reconciling Global and Local Actions”—explored possible solutions such as building capacity of rural families in environmental-friendly and climate-smart practices, including restoration through reforestation and protection of ecosystems, as well as competitive and inclusive economic growth, and enabling conditions for improved governance at a local level.

The Climate Change Panel Discussion was moderated by Molly Laverty of Farmer Brothers as she led an engaging conversation on the future of coffee and the impacts of climate change with Michelle Deugd, Iris Alvarado, Meredith Taylor (Counter Culture Coffee), and Margarita Chojolan (Catholic Relief Services).

As the afternoon turned into evening, attendees were provided the option to attend the group dinner at Clio’s Food Craft, which was generously sponsored by Utz Certified. With a rooftop garden, local meat offerings, and sustainably-sourced seafood, Clio’s was a perfect venue for this event.

The following day began with a discussion between Gerardo Flores of  Anacafe and Chad Trewick of Reciprocafé, LLC. Trewick interviewed Flores about Anacafe and the Guatemalan coffee
sector, with a particular focus on the organization’s recent study of production costs in Guatemala. While the tension between consistently rising costs and stagnant commodity futures prices is common knowledge to most of its producer members, many buyers and consumers aren’t aware, and Anacafé wants to use data to change that.

For the remainder of the day, attendees, speakers, and moderators split into working groups to reflect on the presentations from the prior day. These facilitated workshops included the development of individual and collaborative action plans, identification of knowledge gaps and research needs, and prioritization of actions that will help move the industry forward on the three issues of farm workers, climate change, and farm profitability.

As the event came to a close, the groups were asked to report on their activities from the day and any outcomes or observations that they came away with. Several themes were prevalent, but farm profitability clearly emerged as the most critical to Avance attendees. Over the coming months the SCA will focus on raising awareness and developing resources for the specialty coffee industry around this issue, as we continue to advance our work on all three topics. It is clear that we have a lot more work to do as an industry to ensure the future of specialty coffee for many years to come. More detail and analysis will be available on these outcomes in the coming months.

Learn more about Avance at