The day started off with Rick Peyser, Director of Social Advocacy at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters presenting his research on food security. Actually, it was about the lack of food security. Rick conducted in-home interviews with coffee co-op families in Guatemala, Mexico and Nicaragua about three years ago. He told me of the research two years ago at a Sustainable Harvest conference in Nicaragua. It was a great shock to him to learn that most of the families have problems with putting food on the table year round. Only 15% did not experience any hunger during what they called the thin months between April and July.
Like farmers everywhere, cash comes in once a year when they sell their crops. This cash must last until the next harvest unless other work is available. Most coffee buyers visit during the harvest season and have no knowledge of the lean months. It is not a surprise that there is poverty and hunger in these countries, but it is news that it happens to coffee farmers that own their land and sell their coffee at fair trade prices or greater. The rest of the presentations centered on defining solutions, industry collaboration, measuring progress and such. Sarah Beubien, Product Manager at Coffee Bean International introduced the START program developed by Al Liu, of Atlas Coffee and Mark Stell, owner of Portland Roasting to track a companys sustainable and social programs.
The idea is to be able to plan, track and measure the success of such programs. Companies can share anonymously this data with the SCAA so they can quantify and improve the ability of the Specialty Coffee industry to collaborate from producer to retailer to solve social and environmental problems. I will look into this program more to see if it is something we at B&B want to use. In the afternoon we broke into small groups to discuss one of the several issues presented in the Symposium. I choose to attend the food security round table because of my respect for Rick Peyser and that it was one of the tougher subjects. How do you solve the problem of hunger in the world, let alone in the few regions that Rick studied? I do not think individuals can, this is a government size problem. You can do something though and move the mountain a little, as Rick put it.
The Symposium ended at 4:30pm. By 5:30pm I was at the opening ceremony with Sandy Hall whom I ran into at the entrance to the auditorium. Sandy and I listened to the speeches and then went to the reception sponsored by Cafs do Brazil. The Brazilians do know how to throw a party. There were three or four stations for food (enough to make a meal of), five or six bars and an espresso competition of some kind on one of the two patios and of course, a live band. The party was packed with a thousand or more people. Sandy and I searched for other B&B folks to no avail. The crowds and noise became too much for me so I abandoned Sandy and headed for the peace and quiet of my hotel room.