Climate change, a pandemic, less interest of youth in agriculture – numerous challenges are threatening our daily cup of coffee. And more importantly: They are constantly looming over those families who grow and harvest the beans that give us our morning energy boost. For 20 years now, International Coffee Partners (ICP) has worked as a sustainable coffee partnership to improve livelihood together with smallholder coffee farmer families to tackle those challenges and ensure a better live for those who are the very basis of the coffee industry’s worldwide supply chain.

As a unique pre-competitive cooperation of eight European family-owned companies, that are usually competitors in the field, ICP is proud to be celebrating 20 years of working jointly in the interest of farmer families, industry and environment alike. It has been a wild ride through times of crisis, the Great Recession, the ever growing threat of climate change, droughts, migration and an ongoing pandemic. And the next 20 years seem equally challenging. Therefore, while celebrating the achievements of the past two decades, the ICP members look ahead for their partnership in the coffee sector.

Online celebration marks 20 Years of ICP

Due to the ongoing pandemic, ICP celebrated its anniversary during the online event “Focus on People! How the coffee sector can ensure smallholder families’ livelihoods”.

Kathrine Löfberg, Chairperson of ICP and Chairperson of the Board at Löfbergs, recaps the first 20 years of ICP. The cooperation was founded in 2001, with a vision ahead of its time. Back then, a devastating coffee crisis shook the world of coffee farmers and coffee companies alike in the global coffee market. Especially smallholder coffee farms were suffering. “We saw them struggle, but we also saw the potential to make a change,” says Kathrine. From the beginning, ICP’s goal was to start a sustainable development that would last long after the individual projects were finished. Therefore, ICP not only focuses on the farmers’ coffee production. Farmer families are encouraged to find other income sources as well, to grow other crops and thereby secure their own food supply and that of their region. “After all, you should never put all your eggs in one basket”, Michael R. Neumann reminds the viewers.

Invitation card 20 Years of ICP

During an online event, ICP marked its 20th anniversary

More than 300 people from all over the world, from Canada to Vietnam, from Sweden to Kenya attended the event. Panelists Giuseppe Lavazza (Vice-Chairman of Lavazza), Gunter Schall (Head of Units of Private Sector Engagement for the Austrian Development Agency), Kathrine Löfberg, (Chairperson of ICP and Chairperson of the Board at Löfbergs), Michael R. Neumann (Member of the Advisory Council, Neumann Gruppe), Michael Opitz (Managing Director of Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung) and moderator Sara Morrocchi not only reflected on 20 Years of ICP but also discussed pressing issues like climate change, gender, generational transition and world population.  The audience appreciated the work ICP has done through comments like

“You have achieved something truly remarkable that can serve as an inspiration also to other industries! ICP: Go, go, go!“

But viewers also asked critical questions like how ICP wants to react to growing inequalities triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic to which Giuseppe Lavazza answered: “Now we are forced to think about new components related to health and try to create more security in the coffee community. So, our capability of being flexible is still very important and we have to keep it for the future.”

Sustainable coffee and improved livelihoods

ICP already approaches the problem of inequality in its various projects. ICP is convinced that smallholder family farms – just as any enterprise – produce better outcomes when women, men and different generations work together in unison. That is why “the constant improvement of good agricultural practice skills along with other qualifications to run the business, very important soft and training qualities like the gender empowerment, and also youth and family planning have joined the curriculum,” Michael R. Neumann emphasizes. In the past years, two groups of coffee farmers have therefore received special support: women and youth. More than 16,000 young people under 35 years and almost 61,000 women have received training by ICP in coffee projects in 2019.

Teddy Nakyambadde from Uganda

Teddy Nakyambadde participates in the ICP project in Uganda

Indonesian coffee farmer women chat on farm

The ICP project in Indonesia also includes women in all activities

Now, the figures speak for themselves. “Innovation needs to be rooted in evidence,” Gunter Schall of the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) says at the celebration. ICP and the ADA are financing a coffee project in Ethiopia together. An evaluation of the cooperation between ICP and the Austrian Development Agency has proven the impact that ICP has made so far.

20 years of track record to support sustainable agriculture

ICP has finalized 23 projects in 13 countries and ongoing projects in six countries all over the world. Shareholders have invested more than 15 million Euros, an impressive sum with an impressive outcome: In Trifinio, a key coffee growing region and a biodiversity hotspot, every US dollar invested achieved an investment return of 3,7 US dollars. More than 58,000 coffee farmers cultivating 47,000 hectares of coffee farmland worldwide have attended ICP training in 2020 alone – with a huge effect: In Indonesia, 88 percent of farmer families improved the management of their farms. 85 percent of the supported smallholder households in Tanzania applied the recommended (post-)harvest practices. And according to an external evaluation 90 percent of the project participants in Central America said they see a brighter future ahead of them.

Knowledge on sustainable coffee production spreads beyond projects

And it continues from there. “We have seen that many of the farmers around our projects, not in our projects, have taken up the methodologies and the knowledge,” Kathrine says. In consequence, 100,000 coffee farming families reached through ICP projects are just part of those, benefitting from the learnings on the ground.

Viewer comment: “The coffee industry needs to focus on sustainability and a more respectful relation between nature and human needs. ICP can play an important role in this direction!“

Screenshot of all participants

Logged in from Sweden to Italy and Netherlands to Germany

From the beginning, all projects have been implemented by the private foundation Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS). “Even though you see me in a suit today, we are the ones with the sleeves open and the boots on. The ones that are in the field, at home in the villages, and also in the farmer huts,” says Michael Opitz, Managing Director of HRNS. The foundation forms the link between ICP and the farmer families, implementing the projects on the ground and engaging with the families on a daily basis.

Family values as driving force behind ICP

But how did eight companies from seven countries come together to support the smallest but certainly most important links in the supply chain? Kathrine Löfberg explains: “We are all family-owned companies with almost 900 years of experience in the field and a very personal commitment in the industry and a long term view.” As family-owned companies, ICP members are used to plan ahead and focus “not on the next quarter, but the next generation”.

Michael R. Neumann, Member of the Advisory Council of Neumann Kaffee Gruppe set the spark 20 years ago. But “the fire was lit and kept alive by all the ICP members,” he emphasizes. It was kept alive for two decades, despite the initial plans. “We started with a vision of about three years. After a few years we understood, it was too short,” says Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice-Chairman of Lavazza, and resumes: “From the beginning, the framework was, that we don’t want to be a charity association. We don’t want to just provide subsidies to the farmers, but we want to provide a sustainable future for the industry.” Michael R. Neumann agrees: “This cooperation is based on certain values which equate to some extend humanistic values which center on the equality of human beings in the world and put the constant improvement of an individual’s qualities and skills at the center of our work.” ICP shareholders share a common belief that the family-owned farms in Africa, Asia and Latin America are just as important enterprises as the family-owned companies in Europe. After all, coffee farmers are more than operators within the value chain – they are the beginning of the chain.

Listening to farmer voices about pressing issues

Rosibel Ramirez (41), a coffee farmer from Honduras, has internalized this image: “We are an entrepreneurial family,” she says in a video statement, “My husband oversees all farm activities, and I take care of the administration. We always try to keep our finances in place, so we know what our expenses are, so we can generate a better income.”

Viewer comment: „Thank you for the invitation and the good insights, Especially, involving farmer statements from many world regions. Well done!“

Farmers in the ICP project in Honduras evaluate coffee quality

Farmers in the ICP project in Honduras evaluate coffee quality

Tanzania: One of Emil and Lugano's beehives which provides income from honey.

Tanzania: One of Emil and Lugano’s beehives which provides income from honey.

How can we help smallholder coffee farming families to take on the challenges of the future?

ICP is now looking forward to the next 20 years of coffee company partnership. While we all love a good cup in the peaceful morning hours or after a long afternoon meeting and follow latest coffee trends, even in a coffee company, it’s not all about coffee. Not even about securing a reliable supply chain. Maybe more than other industries, the coffee industry is confronted with the challenges that currently shake the world – it is affected at its very base: on the single farms of their suppliers. And there, the impact of climate change and population growth, among other challenges, will increase in the decades to come.

Consumers should learn more about the sacrifices behind each cup of sustainable coffee

While we enjoy a cup of coffee, hardly anyone is aware of where the beans, that are ground into the fine smelling powder, come from. Coffee farmers have a message for all of us: “My wish as a smallholder family is, that consumers appreciate and value the sacrifice behind every cup of coffee. It is cultivated with great passion and a lot of love, so it meets your taste,” says Rosibel Ramirez (41) from Honduras. Kathrine Löfberg agrees: “I think we have a lot of work to do to really get the consumers to understand the process behind the hard work, all the way that the coffee goes from the coffee farms to end up in a cup somewhere.”

How can sustainable coffee farming families and their enterprises grow more resilient in the face of future crises?

Climate change is what hampers this hard work done by smallholder coffee farmers, since its impact affects people closer to the equator much more than inhabitants of countries up north. In 2010, when climate change was not yet a hot topic in the media, ICP founded the initiative for coffee&climate (c&c) [insert link] and is one of the driving forces behind it up to today. Like ICP, c&c is a pre-competitive partnership inviting other partners outside of ICP to join. After all, climate change affects all of us. Training concerning the management of climate change show results. In Tanzania and Uganda, more than 55 percent of farmers applied climate change adaptation practices in 2019.

Effects of climate change can hinder sustainable coffee production und livelihoods

Effects of climate change can hinder sustainable coffee production und livelihoods

How to keep coffee farming attractive for the next generation

Now the big task ahead is to convince the next generation that the coffee bean is worth their hard work and great ideas. How are parents inspiring their children to continue the family business and become coffee farmers themselves – despite the challenges that they will have to face? The idea of collaboration seems to capture the next generation as well: “My advice to someone of my age who wants to get involved in coffee growing is to join a coffee cooperative and to approach smallholder farmer groups so that they can discover the many opportunities available for youth in the coffee sector,” says Stiven Ramirez (21) from Honduras.

Susilawati (47) from Indonesia teaches her children, that an agricultural business does more than putting food on the table: “I show my children how to be a farmer. I show them, what they get from it like paying school fees and having income for daily needs.”

And her fellow countryman Tarmizi (52) emphasizes what ICP is focusing on: Knowledge and skills. “If you are young and want to become a farmer you need to be eager to learn about agriculture and how to put it into practice. With our eyes we know, with our ears we remember and with our hands we can do it.”

And the best way to do it, is to do it together. “For the future, we want to continue to embrace the power to work together,” says Kathrine Löfberg, “it’s like with coffee: development and progress is the best when you share it with others.”

Watch the video below to hear directly from ICP-Shareholders and their thoughts about 20 years of ICP. 


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