Sustainable coffee is produced on a farm with high biological diversity and low chemical inputs. It conserves resources, protects the environment, produces efficiently, competes commercially, and enhances the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
                               -- Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, First Sustainable Coffee Congress

mcdonalds-logoI have reported previously on McDonald’s efforts to improve coffee supply chain sustainability, part of a larger effort in overall sustainability. In my post “McDonald’s makes a substantial commitment to coffee sustainability”  I provided an overview of 2013 levels of certified coffee and farmer capacity-building partnerships. I also compared the efforts of this company which derives a relatively small portion of income from coffee to that of JM Smucker (owner of Folgers, among other brands) which makes most of its profit from coffee. I gave a brief recap and update later that year.

In their 2014 Good Business corporate responsibility report, McDonald’s declared an “aspirational” goal (versus a commitment, I suppose) of sourcing 100% of their coffee from third-party verified sustainable sources. As of 2014,

  • 32% of their global coffee (22% in the US) is from sustainable sources, including Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, or Fairtrade certified farms. This is through their network of suppliers, as they do not purchase coffee directly. That is an increase from 2012, when those figures were 25% global, 15% US.
  • 100% of caffeinated coffee is Europe is Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, or Fairtrade certified.
  • 100% of coffee in McDonald’s restaurants in Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand is Rainforest Alliance certified.
  • 100% of espresso in the US and Canada is Rainforest Alliance certified.
  • Their grocery store Espresso Roast McCafe at Home brand is 100% Rainforest Alliance certified. The bagged McCafe coffees in grocery stores are roasted by KraftHeinz.  Kraft went through a series of spin-offs and mergers, and retained some coffee operations and brands, including Maxwell House, Gevalia, and Tassimo.

These are significant efforts for a fast food chain and, as noted in my previous posts, more impressive than some coffee companies. Because McDonald’s buys through suppliers that also serve other companies, pushing the suppliers to source more certified coffees should also have positive spillover effects in the larger market.


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Revised on December 13, 2019

Posted in Corporate coffee,McDonald's

journalsI have made another periodic update to my coffee bibliography, peer-reviewed papers that deal with various ecological and economic aspects of coffee growing.  Now that the list is over 400 papers, I thought it might be useful to publish a list of the most recent additions when I update the larger list.

Here are the most recent ones. Note that not all are new publications, because when I read new literature, I often find references to older papers I missed. I’ve included the abstracts of papers I found particularly interesting, revealing, or relevant. Warning: long and nerdy!

Barham, B.L., M. Callenes, S. Gitter, J. Lewis and J. Weber. 2011. Fair Trade/Organic coffee, rural livelihoods, and the “agrarian question”: southern Mexican coffee families in transition. World Development 39: 134–145.

Barham, B.L. and J.G. Weber. 2012. The economic sustainability of certified coffee: recent evidence from Mexico and Peru. World Development 40: 1269–1279.

Consumers increasingly act on preferences for a more just and sustainable world by purchasing certified agricultural products. Using survey data from coffee growers in Mexico and Peru, we explore the economic sustainability of certified coffee, looking at conventional, Fair Trade/organic, and Rainforest Alliance certified growers. The analysis reveals that yields rather than price premiums are most important for increasing net cash returns for coffee growing households. Given the link between net returns and producer participation in certified coffee schemes, the findings suggest that certification norms that permit improving yields are essential for improving grower welfare and attracting and maintaining growers.

De Beenhouwer, M., L. Geeraert, J. Mertens, M. Van Geel, R. Acuña Castillo, K. Vanderhaegen and O. Honnay. 2016. Biodiversity and carbon storage co-benefits of coffee agroforestry across a gradient of increasing management intensity in the SW Ethiopian highlands. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 222: 193–199.

Bravo-Monroy, L., S.G. Potts and J. Tzanopoulos. 2016. Drivers influencing farmer decisions for adopting organic or conventional coffee management practices. Food Policy 58: 49–61.

Colombia is one of the world’s most important producers of Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica), whose coffee-growing zone coincides with a biogeographic hotspot of biodiversity. Given that coffee agroecosystems are grown by both organic and conventional schemes of management in Santander, a region which produces coffees with specialist distinctive flavours, this study aims to better understand the factors that influence the adoption of these different schemes of management. A combination of ethnographic techniques and quantitative methods were used to examine the predominant drivers of adoption and revealed farmer perceptions associated with coffee farming, and the complexity of interacting factors, that surround their decision making. The results of qualitative analysis suggests that social identity of coffee growers, the existence of farming spaces (lived, perceived, rationalised), the influence of coffee institutions, attitudes about management practices, and social relations of production, all play an important role in the process of decision making. In quantitative terms, we identified 18 socioeconomic drivers, some with interacting effects that had significant influence on the decision to adopt either organic or conventional practices. In particular, at local scale, important factors were technology availability, the type of landowner, formal education of farmers, the role of institutions, membership of community organisations, farm size, coffee productivity and the number of coffee plots per farm. Likewise, economic drivers, such as crop profitability, determined how farmers are involved in trade and market networks at broad regional, national, and international spatial scales. By adopting a more integrated approach, combining qualitative and quantitative methodologies, we characterised the complexity of factors that influencing adoption of coffee management schemes and show that not only financial factors but also a variety of other social factors drive farmer decision making. Identifying the most influential behavioural drivers provides policy with opportunities to better support farmer livelihoods.

Chaves, B. and J. Riley. 2001. Determination of factors influencing integrated pest management adoption in coffee berry borer in Colombian farms. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 87: 159–177.

Faure, G., J.-F. Le Coq, I. Vagneron, H. Hocdé, G.S. Muñoz and M. Kessari. 2012. Strategies of coffee producers’ organizations in Costa Rica toward environmental and social certification processes. Cahiers Agricultures 21: 162–168.

Guzmán, A., A. Link, J.A. Castillo and J.E. Botero. 2016. Agroecosystems and primate conservation: Shade coffee as potential habitat for the conservation of Andean night monkeys in the northern Andes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 215: 57–67.

Haggar, J., M. Barrios, M. Bolaños, M. Merlo, P. Moraga, R. Munguia, et al. 2011. Coffee agroecosystem performance under full sun, shade, conventional and organic management regimes in Central America. Agroforestry Systems 82: 285–301.

Changes in coffee economics are leading producers to reduce agrochemical use and increase the use of shade. Research is needed on how to balance the competition from shade trees with the provision of ecological services to the coffee. In 2000, long-term coffee experiments were established in Costa Rica and Nicaragua to compare coffee agroecosystem performance under full sun, legume and non-legume shade types, and intensive and moderate conventional and organic inputs. Coffee yield from intensive organic production was not significantly different from intensive conventional in Nicaragua, but in Costa Rica it was lower during three of the six harvests. Full sun coffee production over 6 years was greater than shaded coffee in Costa Rica (61.8 vs. 44.7 t ha−1, P = 0.0002). In Nicaragua, full sun coffee production over 5 years (32.1 t ha−1) was equal to coffee with shade that included Tabebuia rosea (Bertol.) DC., (27–30 t ha−1) and both were more productive (P = 0.03) than coffee shaded with Inga laurina (Sw.) Willd. (21.6 t ha−1). Moderate input organic production was significantly lower than other managements under all shade types, except in the presence of Erythrina poepiggina (Walp.) O.F. Cook. Inga and Erythrina had greater basal area and nutrient recycling from prunings than other shade species. Intensive organic production increased soil pH and P, and had higher K compared to moderate conventional. Although legume shade trees potentially provide ecological services to associated coffee, this depends on management of the competition from those same trees.

Hardt, E., E. Borgomeo, R.F. dos Santos, L.F.G. Pinto, J.P.P. Metzger and G. Sparovek. 2015. Does certification improve biodiversity conservation in Brazilian coffee farms? Forest Ecology and Management 357: 181 – 194.

Socio-environmental certification uses evaluation criteria to promote the conservation of the natural environment and landscape connectivity, with the aim of constructing agricultural landscapes more suitable for biodiversity conservation. To test this, we examine whether socio-environmental certification of Brazilian coffee farms contributes to local conservation, particularly in terms of deforestation control, habitat protection and regeneration, and connectivity. The analysis compared changes in landscape structure and connectivity in certified farms before (1995–2002) and after nine years from the beginning of the certification process (2002–2011), using as a reference the surrounding landscape and a control group of non-certified farms. To quantify changes in landscape connectivity we used probabilistic indices of functional connectivity based on graph theory, and two species of terrestrial mammals with contrasting dispersal capacities and habitat requirements: Priodontes maximus (giant armadillo) and Marmosops incanus (gray slender mouse opossum). Our results show that changes in the last decade have been subtle, but that certified farms differ from surrounding areas for the greater deforestation control and habitat availability for both land cover types, and for the greater connectivity for P. maximus. The difference between certified and non-certified farms is not clear-cut, however, we have evidence that the certified farms contributed more than the surrounding areas to the conservation of the studied species when the balance of gains and losses of connectivity is considered. The subtle differences in temporal changes and groups might be partially explained by the fact that certified farms already had a different conservation profile at the beginning of the certification process. Despite the limitations in the sampling size (small number) and time scale (only nine years after certification) which may hinders the detection of certification effects, our findings indicate that certification was important in controlling deforestation and the conversion of new natural areas to agricultural lands.

de Jesús-Crespo, R., D. Newsom, E.G. King and C. Pringle. 2016. Shade tree cover criteria for non-point source pollution control in the Rainforest Alliance coffee certification program: A snapshot assessment of Costa Rica’s Tarrazú coffee region. Ecological Indicators 66: 47–54.

Management of non-point source pollution is of great importance in the context of coffee agriculture, as this land use often coincides with headwater streams that influence water quality at the basin scale. Sustainability certification programs, such as the Rainforest Alliance (RA), provide management guidelines that promote non-point source pollution control in coffee. One of these practices is the maintenance of shade trees within farms, required by RA at a minimum of 40% shade tree cover. Here we assess the effectiveness of this practice in Tarrazú, a high elevation coffee growing region in Costa Rica. We monitored indicators of non-point source pollution in streams with both high and low shade tree cover. Streams with High Shade Tree Cover (HSTC, N = 5 subwatersheds) had 35–55% cover, approximating or exceeding the RA recommendation of at least 40%; and streams with Low Shade Tree Cover (LSTC, N = 5 subwatersheds), had 18–31% cover. We monitored the ten study streams during the dry (April & December), transition (July), and peak (October) rainfall seasons of 2013, and compared responses using t-tests. We found support for the effectiveness of shade tree cover in controlling non-point source pollution: HSTC streams had significantly (p = 0.042) lower mean annual turbidity and significantly (p = 0.004) lower turbidity during the transition season. HSTC streams also had significantly (p = 0.05) lower conductivity values during the transition period, although this trend was weaker through the year. Subwatersheds with HSTC streams were characterized by a higher percentage of RA-certified coffee than LSTC streams. Our study provides evidence of the benefits of RA shade tree cover criteria for managing water quality within high elevation tropical agro-ecosystems, especially if implemented at the watershed scale. These results contribute to our understanding of the role of agroforestry certification on tropical ecosystem conservation, and are the first account of the effectiveness of a specific coffee certification guideline on non-point source pollution control.

Mansingh, G., H. Reichgelt and K.-M. Bryson. 2007. CPEST: An expert system for the management of pests and diseases in the Jamaican coffee industry. Expert Systems with Applications 32: 184–192.

Marín, L., S.M. Philpott, A. De la Mora, G. Ibarra Núñez, S. Tryban and I. Perfecto. 2016. Response of ground spiders to local and landscape factors in a Mexican coffee landscape. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 222: 80–92.

Mariño, Y.A., M.-E. Pérez, F. Gallardo, M. Trifilio, M. Cruz and P. Bayman. 2016. Sun vs. shade affects infestation, total population and sex ratio of the coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) in Puerto Rico. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 222: 258–266.

McCook, S. and J. Vandermeer. 2015. The big rust and the Red Queen: long-term perspectives on coffee rust research. Phytopathology: PHYTO–04–15–0085–RVW.

Milligan, M.C., M.D. Johnson, M. Garfinkel, C.J. Smith and P. Njoroge. 2016. Quantifying pest control services by birds and ants in Kenyan coffee farms. Biological Conservation 194: 58–65.

Ecosystem services, such as pest control and pollination, are critical benefits of biodiversity important for agricultural production. Predators, including insectivorous birds and ants, can provide important biological controls in agroecosystems, boosting crop yield and offsetting the need for expensive inputs such as pesticides. Local habitat and landscape characteristics can affect the delivery of ecosystem services, thereby influencing optimal land allocation for crop production and biodiversity. In order to better understand the relationship between ecosystem services and the surrounding habitat, we conducted a sentinel pest experiment to investigate predation levels in response to a novel pest on coffee farms in central Kenya. The frequency of predation decreased significantly with increasing distance from adjacent forest fragments and was correlated with bird species richness. Predation was also significantly higher on shade compared to sun coffee farms. We conclude that a land sharing approach, via both the integration of shade trees and the conservation of small forest fragments within or adjacent to a farm, can support increased levels of pest control services provided by birds and ants in Kenyan coffee farms.

Perfecto, I., J. Vandermeer and S.M. Philpott. 2014. Complex ecological interactions in the coffee agroecosystem. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 45: 137–158.

Rueda, X. and E.F. Lambin [online]. 2013. Responding to globalization: impacts of certification on Colombian small-scale coffee growers. Ecology and Society 18.

Rueda, X., N.E. Thomas and E.F. Lambin. 2014. Eco-certification and coffee cultivation enhance tree cover and forest connectivity in the Colombian coffee landscapes. Regional Environmental Change 15: 25–33.

Segura, H.R., J.F. Barrera, H. Morales and A. Nazar. 2004. Farmers’ perceptions, knowledge, and management of coffee pests and diseases and their natural enemies in Chiapas, Mexico. Journal of Economic Entomology 97: 1491–1499.

Soto-Pinto, L., Y. Romero-Alvarado, J. Caballero-Nieto and G. Segura Warnholtz. 2001. Woody plant diversity and structure of shade-grown-coffee plantations in Northern Chiapas, Mexico. Revista de Biología Tropical 49: 977–987.

Valencia, V., S. Naeem, L. García-Barrios, P. West and E.J. Sterling. 2016. Conservation of tree species of late succession and conservation concern in coffee agroforestry systems. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 219: 32–41.

Valencia, V., P. West, E.J. Sterling, L. García-Barrios and S. Naeem. 2015. The use of farmers’ knowledge in coffee agroforestry management: implications for the conservation of tree biodiversity. Ecosphere 6: 1–17.

Weber, J.G. 2011. How much more do growers receive for Fair Trade-organic coffee? Food Policy 36: 678–685.

Wollni, M. and B. Brümmer. 2012. Productive efficiency of specialty and conventional coffee farmers in Costa Rica: Accounting for technological heterogeneity and self-selection. Food Policy 37: 67–76.

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Posted in Background information,Research on coffee growing

Slave labor in your cup

by JulieCraves on March 7, 2016

danwatch-logoThe British newspaper The Guardian published an article this week, “Nestlé admits slave labour risk on Brazil coffee plantations.”  The subtitle sums it up: “Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts say beans from Brazilian plantations using slave labour may have ended up in their coffee.” The article is based on an extensive investigation by the Danish independent media and research center Danwatch.  Nestlé admitted it had obtained coffee from farms found to have poor labor conditions resembling slavery. Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) conceded “it was possible” they did, too.

Labor practices are outside the wheelhouse of C&C coverage; you can read the entire Danwatch report here.  But I want to point out here that this is not the first time these companies have been caught buying coffee grown under illegal or unethical conditions. It’s why I advocate for not buying supermarket coffee from large corporations and why I am so skeptical of their “sustainability” claims.

The companies

Most people are familiar with the mega-giant transnational food and beverage company Nestlé. They own the coffee brands Nescafé, Nespresso, and Taster’s Choice, as well as other international brands.

The name Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) is probably unfamiliar to most people outside of Europe, and the company has a rather convoluted pedigree. It was created in 2015 after a merger between Mondelēz International (which had previously taken over most of the coffee brands of Kraft Foods) and European coffee giant D.E Master Blenders 1753 (which itself was spun off from the coffee business of Sara Lee Corp.). Coffee brands include Maxwell House, Gevalia, Kenco, Tassimo, and Senseo, plus many international brands.

The privately held JAB Holding Company owns the majority share in JDE.  It also has majority stakes in Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Caribou Coffee, Keurig Green Mountain, Einstein Noah, and (via Peet’s) Intelligentsia and Stumptown.

Nestlé and JDE together control approximately 18% of global coffee production, and over 40% of global retail market share.

Caught before

In 2007, a World Wildlife Fund report revealed that coffee illegally grown in Sumatra was being purchased by Nestlé and Kraft (most of Kraft’s coffee business is now controlled by Jacobs Douwe Egberts, see above) and other large coffee buyers. Land was being cleared in a national park to grow coffee, threatening habitat for endangered elephants, rhinos, and other wildlife.

At the time, Nestlé admitted the difficulty of determining the precise origin of their coffee. Nearly a year later, in an ABC News follow-up story, Nestlé made the cavalier comment “It might come – we have no way of  knowing – from illegal sources. Law enforcement is not our task.”

Indeed, the enormous amount of coffee purchased by Nestlé, JDE/Kraft, and Smucker’s (Folgers) follows a complex supply chain that would require effort and investment to ensure it does not originate under dubious conditions. It isn’t as if these companies can’t afford it. They make hundreds of millions (in Nestlé’s case, tens of billions) in profits annually.

You can read more about Nestlé’s various sustainability claims, and my take on them, from this page. As for JDE, the fact that the majority owner (JAB) is privately held will only reduce transparency regarding their supply chain, including that of many of their acquisitions. JAB is engaged in a quest to dominate the global coffee scene. I can’t see how this race, a competition with its main rival Nestlé, can advance the cause of coffee grown in a manner that is sustainable to farmers or the environment.

Epilogue regarding other buyers

Starbucks was also implicated in receiving illegally-grown Sumatran coffee in 2007. Prior to 2007, only about half of Starbucks’ coffee was sourced under their CAFÉ Practices guidelines, which identifies their suppliers and requires various criteria and transparency, verified by a third party. Now greater than 96% is sourced through this program. In the current Brazilian case, Starbucks told Danwatch that while they had done business with cooperatives and/or middlemen connected with the guilty farms, they knew each of their farm sources and did not obtain coffee from the farms in question.

McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts were also mentioned in the Danwatch report because they use the Canadian distributor Mother Parkers, which in turn purchased coffee from a Brazilian firm that may have gotten coffee from one of the implicated farms. McDonald’s responded that their communication with suppliers indicated conditions described by Danwatch were not present in their supply chain. I’ll add that McDonald’s has been making considerable efforts in cleaning up their coffee supply chain. They have a goal of sourcing 100% of their coffee from verified sustainable sources by 2020, and are about a third of the way there. I’ll be writing a post about their progress in these efforts.

Dunkin Donuts response was more vague: “Dunkin’ Brands will continue to communicate and enforce our code of conduct standards throughout our coffee supply chain. Any material breach of this Code that does not have an immediate corrective action plan would result in termination of the supplier’s approval status.” They gave this same answer to multiple questions from Danwatch.

UPDATE: For in-depth perspective on slave labor in coffee, please see Michael Sheridan’s always deeply insightful posts:

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Revised on November 14, 2019

Posted in Corporate coffee,Dunkin Donuts,Jacobs Douwe Egberts/KraftHeinz,McDonald's,Nestlé’/Nespresso

2016 status update

by JulieCraves on March 4, 2016

Things have been quiet up front here at C&C. My work situation has changed in the past year, and I have not had much time to work on coffee matters. I’ve spent the time I have had working behind the scenes. I’ve made some site improvements (especially combatting an unreal level of brute force attacks), fixed broken links, etc. so that the current content on the site is kept available and updated. For example, I always make sure to refresh the data in the tables at Eco-certified coffee: how much is there? and Corporate coffee: how much is eco-certified?  I’ve also been trying to keep up with major developments in the coffee industry related to sustainability efforts. I have simply not had the hours to devote to the research involved in presenting the depth, quality, and perspective that I feel comfortable publishing.

I hope to find a happy medium with some upcoming posts in the coming days and weeks.  I appreciate that readership here has not declined but remained strong as people continue to use the site as a resource. Thank you for your support!

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Posted in Housekeeping