Water Security and Coffee: Protecting a Critical Resource

Excerpt from KIM ELENA IONESCU’s introduction of the newly republished SCA White Paper titled Water Security and Coffee: Protecting a Critical Resource

While all the SCA White Papers were written by volunteers, the Blueprint for Water Security in the Coffeelands stands apart for having been written by a team of volunteers who all arrived to the coffee industry by way of the subject they were writing about (in this case, water), as opposed to looking at the subject from the position of a coffee buyer or a barista first and foremost. That breadth of experience leads to this paper having the most case studies from outside of the coffee industry and the largest number of citations, which link to studies that offer further reading. There’s a lot of information available about water, and its importance to our survival – none of us would survive beyond 72 hours without it – could form the basis for arguing that every human on earth should be more concerned about water scarcity than any other global issue. But it’s probably not the case, at least for those of us who get clean water from taps in our homes and pay comparatively small fees for that invaluable privilege. Most coffee farmers, on the other hand, don’t share the privilege of choosing the timing and quantity of water they receive. At the field level, coffee plants may receive too little rain water, or too much, or even just the right amount at the wrong point in the harvest, and those increasingly common irregularities have economic and social implications as well as environmental ones. Meanwhile, at the community level, the availability of potable water may be limited by the demands of coffee processing and its quality affected by poor water treatment.

Download Water Security and Coffee: Protecting a Critical Resource, the newly republished SCA White Paper.

Since the paper’s original publication in 2016, the global water crisis has continued to worsen as a result of climate change and population pressure, and in 2018, two-thirds of the global population experiences water scarcity for at least one month per year. But we can simultaneously recognize macro trends and also celebrate innovation and leadership, including by the organizations profiled in this paper. From the Water Fund in Quito, Ecuador and Blue Harvest in Central America to Nestle’s project in Vietnam and Root Capital’s Clean Tech Finance in East Africa, we find inspiring examples of approaches to water scarcity that are positively impacting local communities and ecosystems. And while these projects and collaborations are based on local needs and rooted in and around the coffee industry, the recommendations that accompany them mirror global objectives – in fact, in 2018 the UN’s High Level Panel on Water published a paper of its own this year that focuses on three major themes: investing in data; integrating agendas across political and sectoral lines; and building cooperation at the global level.

The UN replaced its eight Millennium Development Goals with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. The SDGs are more specific than the previous set of goals, but progress is predicated on recognizing their interdependence. We cannot hope to solve for water insecurity on a farm or in a community without understanding the economic and social factors that contribute to it as well as the environmental ones, nor can we address any farm or community, anywhere in the world, in isolation. In our events, our education, and our research, the Specialty Coffee Association will continue to support and promote work being done by industry stakeholders to advance water security and we will continue to share our own progress.

Thank you for downloading this paper, working towards water security in specialty coffee wherever you are, and for supporting the SCA’s commitment to make coffee better.

KIM ELENA IONESCU is the Chief Sustainability Officer at the Specialty Coffee Association.