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The honest truth about unsustainable coffee

The honest truth about unsustainable coffee

 Coffee production in its current state is unsustainable. Just like most agricultural practices, mainstream, commercial coffee production takes a huge toll on the environment because it uses a monocultural method of maximizing crop yields while relying heavily on chemical inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. Commercial coffee production also depends on the deforestation of land, which contributes to added carbon in the atmosphere. This inevitably has led to biodiversity loss and depleted soil health which makes coffee and the farmer extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Commercial Coffee across the supply chain, from farm to cup, is one of the largest Greenhouse Gas producing crops in the world. This indeed presents us with a unique dichotomy: on one hand, coffee production is a very large greenhouse gas and climate change contributor, while on the other hand coffee is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

 To help illustrate this, a very hot topic in coffee industry circles recently has been the proliferation of Robusta use in coffee programs. Robusta, compared to its sibling species of Arabica, is more tolerant of adverse environmental scenarios, more resistant to coffee diseases and fungus, and generally produces higher yields of coffee per tree. For many years, Robusta has mainly been employed by more commercially focused coffee companies: think grocery store brands and high volume franchises. Many people also see the advantages of using Robusta as a response to the volatility of Arabica, which is much harder to grow and incredibly sensitive to environmental factors. Flavor profile and quality are a huge downside: Robusta is traditionally seen as much less enjoyable to drink when compared to Arabica. However, with the rise of ‘Fine Robusta’ recently, cup quality is rising considerably.

While producing more Fine Robusta is indeed a good response to the growing challenges of Arabica production due to climate change, are we simply using it as a way to adapt to climate change, rather than focus on solutions that will not only allow us to continue to use Arabica but also provide solutions to a changing climate? Truthfully, we must not simply adapt to climate change, which is only waving a white flag. We have to rethink the way that coffee, and agriculture in general, is produced in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. Relying on Robusta as a crop to help feed our need for coffee does nothing but put a bandage on the problem if we do not also change the growing practices that are contributing to climate change in the first place. Many of the solutions to change how coffee is grown that we see involves returning the land intentionally to a thriving ecosystem, full of biodiversity above and below the ground.

Creating a healthy topsoil for coffee trees and other complementary crops, not only allows the soil to capture carbon out of the atmosphere, it also improves water usage and ensures less run-off and erosion which can pollute drinking water in nearby towns and villages. Planting a diverse array of crops that work together can also give the farmer more streams of income and provide food security for their family, which is another huge concern with the onset of climate change. Ultimately, we see practices such as regenerative agriculture as a major solution to slowing the effects of climate change and creating healthy communities for coffee producers and farm workers to thrive in. But what about huge farms? Isn’t it almost impossible for large-scale farms to stop what they are doing and reverse course? Wouldn’t the financial investment be almost unsustainable? Wouldn’t this create a coffee shortage while farms slowly rehabilitate their land? The short answer is yes, but you must understand that large-scale coffee farms are actually in the minority: 60% of coffee production in the world is done on farms of 5 hectares (~12 acres) or less¹ .

 Creating systems and organizations that will help small-scale farmers transition their farms over time to a regenerative model will create a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change as well as contribute to livability for the farmers. In its essence, supporting small-scale farmers is absolutely necessary for the health of our planet as they represent the majority of coffee producers. We also must challenge large-scale farmers to begin the process of converting their farms to a more sustainable model as well. Evolution does not take place overnight, and implementing change is a step by step process in the right direction. Many large producers have started by committing small parts of their farms to perform case-studies that measure soil health over time, crop yield, quality, and labor to understand the viability of converting larger portions of their farm to more sustainable practices. It is indeed possible and viable for large-scale farmers to also change how they are operating and not just adjust their practices to continue producing coffee. At Futura Coffee Roasters, we are excited to be a small part in this conversation and invite you to join us. We are committed to investing 3% of our sales into regenerative agriculture in local communities and at origin, while also raising awareness for this movement.


Our sibling organization, Biodiversal, is doing the work in Colombia and beyond, working with small-scale farmers and assisting them on their journey towards transitioning to regenerative farming practices and healthy soil. There are so many ways that we can all contribute to creating solutions to our greatest threat, and for that we should be hopeful. We can no longer simply adapt to survive, we must change to thrive.




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