THE CHALLENGES posed to the global coffee market – climate change, the economic crisis, rising production costs, volatile prices – are well documented.  Perhaps less well-documented but just as important is the role that coffee companies the world over are playing in helping minimise the risk of shortages.


At Nestlé, we have been working with our coffee suppliers since 1962 to encourage sustainable farming while helping to improve the living standards of coffee-farming communities.  Ensuring the continuity of high quality, responsibly sourced coffee is at the heart of our business approach which is part of Nestlé’s broader Creating Shared Value strategy.


We work with agricultural experts from the Rainforest Alliance, the Sustainable Agriculture Network and 4C (Common Code for Coffee Community) amongst others, with the aim of demonstrating how traditional farming techniques can be coupled with modern methods to help farmers improve their quality and yield while reducing their environmental impact; for example with the Rainforest Alliance we are training over 10,000 farmers each year in sustainable farming practices that meet the 4C baseline sustainability standard.


Most recently, in 2011, we launched a plan to support coffee farmers in the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia, entering into a partnership with the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC) and providing them with four million coffee trees.  Importantly, these four million plantlets were developed to be high-yielding and have higher tolerance to disease than most plantlets.  In addition, 48 coffee plant nurseries have been established in the region and Nestlé is supplying five agronomists to provide training and technical assistance to 1,200 Colombian coffee farmers.


In 2011, we also purchased approximately 90,000 tonnes of green coffee through our Farmer Connect programmes in Vietnam, Thailand, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Côte d’Ivoire and Mexico, making us the leading Roaster in direct purchasing of green coffee. Our Farmer Connect system helps tens of thousands of farmers and small-scale intermediaries deliver coffee directly to Nestlé buying stations or partner mills, enabling increased revenue to the farmers and facilitating access to technical assistance.  This partnership approach helps farmers increase their yields and diversify their activities, improving their incomes and living standards and provides Nestlé with a reliable supply of high-quality raw materials and brings sustained growth for the local economy.


Initiatives such as these form part of the global NESCAFÉ® Plan launched in 2010, under which the company will invest approximately £213 million in coffee projects worldwide and distribute 220 million coffee trees by 2020.


Under the plan, we also look to reduce our environmental impact within our production processes.  At our Hayes and Tutbury coffee factories for example, 20% of the sites’ energy needs are provided by using spent coffee grounds as fuel which reduces the need to use fossil fuels and also means the grounds no longer go to landfill.


It is clear from our own activities and initiatives that coffee and climate change is a broad and far reaching topic and it is extremely difficult for any one company to address the issue of climate change single handed.


However, our belief is that many raindrops form an ocean.  It’s a collective effort.  Each coffee company should continue to do everything within its power to make coffee farmers’ operations more socially and environmentally responsible, and make coffee farming an attractive business; giving farmers the tools and the education required to help them conserve and protect natural resources and ecosystems and ensure rights and benefits to workers.


Continued investment and commitment should mean that over time, we will start to see increased yields, controlled costs, improved quality and diversification, ultimately safeguarding the industry and in doing so, creating a brighter future for coffee farmers.