Last autumn Spire Ås – together with the student organizations of Get Inspired – arranged an evening about coffee. Get Inspired is a project and a collaboration by organizations located in Ås, with a series of seminars and workshops focusing on the environment and development each semester. The aim for this coffee evening was to learn and understand more about the social and environmental implications of the global coffee value chain. Among the topics that were discussed were sustainable growth of coffee, farmers livelihoods, the role of the different actors in the market, as well as the influence of the coffee culture on the consumers.
The first speaker was Nicolas Mendoza, a plant science PhD student at NMBU. Nicolas talked about the biological and physical characteristics of the coffee plant, and gave an introduction to the path of the coffee bean: From the seed to the store. We also learned about the different ways of growing the bean and about the different species of the coffee plant. Furthermore, he told us about the certifications we all see at the stores (Fair Trade, UTZ, etc…) and how they influence the market without being necessary a guarantee for the quality of the coffee itself.
The second speaker was Mariel Cristina Aguilar Støen, Associate Professor at the University of Oslo. Her presentation was about the socio-economics of the value chain of coffee, as well as some of its environmental implications. She talked about the structure of the coffee market with an historical background, pointing out the failure of the International Coffee Organization to regulate the markets, letting a few transnational companies with more than 70% of the global coffee trade in their power. She also talked about the income distribution of the sector, where farmers and farmers-cooperatives are always the weakest economic actor of the chain. She also showed interesting statistics about coffee consumption around the world and how coffee has influenced cultures and vice versa.
After the two presentations, there was an open debate, where interesting questions were raised and controversial topics were discussed. A popular topic amongst the crowd was how to support the local farmers in the fairest way. A difficult question to answer, even for the experts. Nicolas’ view was more oriented on the direct trade between farmers and retailers or coffee shops, while Mariel’s view leaned towards trade based on certification schemes such as Fair Trade.
The final part of the event was a presentation of some alternatives to buy more socio-environmentally friendly coffee in Norway. Joakim Hope Soltveit held a presentation about the company Imponega in which he explained that Imponega imports directly from local agro-ecological farms in Peru. They are aware about farmers’ livelihoods and the need for sustainable agriculture, which is why they commit to negotiate the best prices both for them as a company and also for the farmers, but this is always a challenge considering the context of being a part of the global market.
It was a great evening with an auditorium completely full with coffee lovers from many different backgrounds.
Written by Anna-Sofie Schuffert & Sara Bagheri