At the beginning of International Coffee Partners (ICP) stands the idea that, if everyone in coffee sustainability is working alone, not enough can be achieved for smallholder coffee farming families. Only together things can be changed systematically and with a lasting impact. Doing that in a pre-competitive approach helps even more. Joint activities, personal exchange, shared values and interaction are therefore the core elements of ICP since its foundation in 2001.

Coffee crisis as starting point for ICP’s work on coffee sustainability

The coffee crisis in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s was the trigger for ICP. Michael R. Neumann – then CEO of Neumann Gruppe – took the initiative. The basic idea has been to tackle the strong impoverishment of coffee farming families due to revenue not covering production costs with a new approach. “As many companies felt the need to act, this has been the ideal situation to think about how to setup partnerships to make sure not everybody is doing something different”, remembers Michael Opitz, Managing Director of ICP since its establishment.

Partnership is a core element for ICP
Sustainability in the coffee sector starts with cooperation

In 2000, Michael R. Neumann meet with some of his most relevant corporate partners like Tchibo in Germany, Löfbergs in Sweden, Paulig in Finland and Lavazza in Italy. Key from the very beginning: family-owned companies sharing the same values are the core of this new initiative. After a year of planning, the International Coffee Partners (ICP) Ltd. was founded by Lavazza, Löfbergs, Neumann Gruppe, Paulig and Tchibo. The reason for choosing a company structure for ICP has been to show the partners long-term commitment in a clear legal structure.

Innovative approach to coffee sustainability

“It has been very innovative not only by saying that the topic of low coffee prices has such an importance that we need to address it together. But also, because market competitors came together to work in a pre-competitive way”, remembers Opitz. From the very beginning he observed a strong dedication of the involved companies not only to support farmer families, but also to help them to become stronger in the coffee value chain. A pre-competitive programming with a non-profit orientation has been a key element from the beginning to make this possible.

From multiple locations to long-term commitment for coffee sustainability

Directly after the registration of ICP, the first projects started in Guatemala and Honduras. Projects in other countries like Peru and Cameroon followed. Important for the development of ICP’s long-term vision has been to stop implementing more or less randomly around the globe after some years. “Changing to long-term commitment in the regions, ICP is active in currently, was an important step to underline the idea of ICP”, remembers Opitz. It brought not only continuity to the projects. Through the long-term work on the ground, ICP also managed to support the spreading of knowledge within the regions through local partnerships in and around the farmer communities. Since 2005, Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) is the exclusive implementer for ICP-projects, which further supports the setup of local networks.

Meeting smallholder coffee farmers in the field for more coffee sustainability
Discussing with coffee farmer organizations is important in coffee sustainability
Exchanging knowledge on coffee production with coffee farmers in Uganda

And ICP grew. Over the years Joh. Johannson, Franck and Delta Cafés joined ICP, making ICP a partnership spreading all over Europe. Trust and collaboration has. Travelling to the field and directly exchanging with the families is a part of this. Like 2007 in Uganda. “I remember that during a visit at a depot committee we experienced strong and direct exchange not only about coffee prices but also about the daily challenges for families in coffee production”, says Opitz. Such meetings with farming families and the personal and honest exchange with them raises trust and empathy among involved partners. Such key visits help not only to understand the situation of families, but also their potentials.

ICP is not only about sustainable coffee production

Today, ICP is not a coffee focused partnership. The producing families are the core of the work. “The families’ livelihood situation does not only consist of coffee. They need to feed their families and stabilize cash flows throughout the year, they need to address climate change, find ways how gender equality supports their family business and integrate the next generation”, elaborates Opitz. “Rural livelihoods consist of much more than just one produce.”

What unifies ICP shareholders is the belief that sustainability in the coffee sector and for smallholder families can only be addressed together. And necessary for that has been to work pre-competitively without own supply chain interests towards a common goal. “Looking at the ongoing discussions how to address coffee sustainability, ICP really is a role model and being active for 20 years now, proofs that the coffee sector can work together on sustainability issues – if the will and commitment are there”, explains Opitz.

More ICP Fieldnotes

More than Coffee! Strengthening Farmers in a Holistic Way Makes Them More Resilient to Crises

How did coffee farmers in Uganda and Central America cope with the COVID-19 pandemic? What helped them alleviate their situation? And how can they be prepared for future crises? This was the topic of the panel discussion "Stronger After the Crisis - Resilience in...

Online Event: “Stronger After the Crisis – Resilience in Coffee Farming”

Join our online event! Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice Chairman of the Lavazza Group, Claudia Muñoz, Technical Coordinator at Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) Central America, and Victor Komakech, Regional Project Manager at HRNS Uganda were live on stage at the Terra Madre...

International Coffee Partners: COVID-19 reveals importance to support smallholder families beyond coffee

International Coffee Partners (ICP) urges to be prepared for post-COVID-19 support for smallholder coffee farming families and their production. Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice-Chairman of Lavazza Group, Italy, and one of the ICP shareholders says: “We really need to be very...

Alleviating the impact of COVID-19 on farmers in Uganda and Tanzania

It was not too long ago that Teddy Nakyambadde, a young farmer from Mityana, Uganda, was struggling as a single mother to make ends meet and feed her young son. Today however, she is a dynamic agri-business woman growing and selling coffee, tomatoes, maize and beans...

ICP Theory of Change ready for download

ICP’s vision is to improve smallholder farmer families’ livelihoods. To achieve that, ICP is not here for the short term. International Coffee Partners is committed to long-term projects and long-term impact in the coffee sustainability sector. That’s why ICP recently...

How COVID-19 impacts smallholder coffee farmer families

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis poses long-term risks on the livelihood situation of smallholder coffee farmer families around the globe. When the Coronavirus pandemic started, International Coffee Partners (ICP) remained committed to its support for these families from...

COVID-19: Dealing with lost harvests in Ethiopia

Since October 2019, ICP is implementing the CAFE-project in Ethiopias Amhara Region in co-funding with the Austrian Development Agency (ADA). Now in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, ICP field staff is specifically important to the farmer families. “In Ethiopia and...

Indonesia: The Almukatin family in times of COVID-19

It’s a 1 ha farm that belongs to the family of Pak Almukatin. Together with his wife and two daughters, he grows coffee, pepper, chili, ginger and areca nuts. Located in Sebaja village in the ICP-project region southern Sumatra the family lives in one of the major...

ICP in Honduras: “We handled the coffee rust crisis, we will handle COVID-19”

The Coronavirus puts high pressure upon the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farmer families around the world. International Coffee Partners (ICP) reacted at a very early stage to the pandemic by informing coffee communities how to protect themselves but also by...

COVID-19: Simon, a young farmer from Uganda, tells his story

Some weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread around the world, we meet Simon. He is a young farmer from Mityana, Uganda. We wanted to tell you about his daily life through his own eyes. While we finalized the story, the novel Coronavirus also came to...