Dr. Janina Grabs on Overcoming the Single Exit Fallacy | Re:co Symposium 2019

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Today, we’re very happy to present the fourth and final episode of “Macroeconomic Dysfunction in the Coffee Trade,” a session recorded at Re:co Symposium this past April. This session convened experts to understand the functions and challenges of the coffee system responsible for the volatile shifts in the coffee market. If you haven’t watched the previous episodes in this series, we strongly recommend going back before you continue with this episode. 

Despite the best efforts of industry actors and producing-country governments over the past decades, the coffee sector continues to suffer from recurring crises that affect the livelihoods of millions of smallholder producers. Why are our solutions not working as intended? In today’s video, Dr. Janina Grabs of the University of Munster and visiting researcher at Yale University, argues that there is a need to closely consider the scale at which different initiatives may create positive change. In particular, scaling up initiatives that are based on differentiation, or on productivity increases, is likely to have counterproductive results unless carefully managed. In addition to such solutions that may work well in niche markets or local settings, there is a need to fundamentally reconsider the systemic problems of the sector, such as the cyclical volatility of the free market system, and rethink the possibility of systemic solutions.

Special Thanks to Toddy 

This talk from Re:co Boston is supported by Toddy. For over 50 years, Toddy brand cold brew systems have delighted baristas, food critics, and regular folks alike. By extracting all the natural and delicious flavors of coffee and tea, Toddy Cold Brew Systems turn your favorite coffee beans and tea leaves into fresh cold brew concentrates, that are ready to serve and enjoy. Learn more about Toddy at http://www.toddycafe.com.

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Table of Contents

0:00 Introduction
2:40 The more coffee producers across the world try to differentiate themselves by growing higher quality coffees, the less money they will all ultimately make.
5:00 Coffee producers respond to high prices by planting coffee, fueling long price troughs. There has also been downward trend in inflation-adjusted coffee prices over the last 50 years while costs have risen.
8:30 The promise and shortfalls of private sustainability standards
13:00 How specialty coffee can avoid the “burning theater” trap by targeting under-privileged producer groups and offering sustainable and transparent prices for larger quantities of coffee
16:00 We need an honest conversation on the scalability of a model built on diversification, for both environmental and economic reasons.
20:50 Outro