Coffee is part of the economy of every country in the world. Whether uniting production and consumption – or if there is only consumption –it is present in 196 nations and has growth potential in virtually all of them. Despite this, the International Coffee Organization (ICO), founded almost 60 years ago, brings together less than half of them, even though its members account for 97% of global supply and 67% of global demand.
With the mission to expand the sector’s engagement around the world, Vanusia Nogueira, a Brazilian born in Minas Gerais, takes over as executive director of the London-based organization in May, replacing José Sette.
The challenge will involve not only a rapprochement with non-member countries, but broad work on income gains, transparency, market relations and sustainability.
The ICO brings together 75 countries — including all European Union countries, and not just the bloc. Production totals 168 million bags of the Arabica and Robusta varieties, and consumption reaches 167 million bags each harvest.
Assuming that advances will take place “step by step” and without “megalomania”, Ms. Nogueira already indicates the horizon she seeks in five years, when her term ends. “I will be fulfilled if we have all the countries in the world within the ICO,” she said. Thus, the entity will fulfill the task of being a forum for discussion and resolution of issues in its view.
At the age of 60, Ms. Nogueira put aside the idea of retiring and responded to an industry call. Her name was suggested last year – although she says she never wanted the job – and her candidacy was supported by the Brazilian private sector, with the approval of the federal government, and by chain players in other countries — including Colombia. The Colombians, well-known competitors of Brazil, occupy the second place in the supply of Arabica coffee to the world. The election took place in February.
The executive from Três Pontas will face the challenge of defending the pleas of a number of dissatisfied with the entity’s performance around the world, according to sources in the sector. The first woman to lead the ICO, Ms. Nogueira will arrive in the United Kingdom knowing that she will need to shake up an environment that breathes political timing, due to its intergovernmental origin, and that had been the target of harsh criticism in the pre-pandemic years. During this period, the U.S., the world’s largest coffee consumer, left the organization.
“At the last face-to-face meeting, in 2019, we discussed whether it was worth continuing. ICO was heavy, slow, and did not give answers to anyone,” she said. “We concluded that the private sector and civil society should be invited to take part in the debate.”
From there, a public-private task force was created in 2020, led and facilitated by the organization itself, which created five working groups: one coordinator and four others focused on prosperity (income), transparency, the environment and commercial relations. Although they have been moving at a faster pace since last year, Ms. Nogueira arrives to give traction to the actions.
The aspect related to prosperity aims to find out what income is necessary for a coffee grower to “survive with dignity.” The idea is to carry out surveys by regions to discover the gaps between the producer’s current income and the amount he needs to live from the activity.
It is in the scope of the actions to find out what are the causes of the gaps so that problems can be tackled, ranging from lack of education and technical assistance, planted varieties and productivity, to the analysis of structural issues in each region and that reflect in the activity.
Ms. Nogueira also highlights that it is necessary to have serenity to deal with the fact that there will be cases in which the producer will need to think about diversification of economic activity. Depending on environmental and social conditions, she explains, it will not always be possible to live on coffee alone.
In the income-focused group, there are pilot projects underway in Africa and Central America. Local associations such as the African Iaco and Promecafé are taking part, and there is support from development banks from Germany and Switzerland. In addition, talks are underway with FAO and the United States Agency for International Development Support (USAID), as well as other interested parties. The plan is to complete the mapping in all producing countries by 2030.
Another line of action in the task force is the one that will focus on market transparency. A delicate chapter, it involves studying productive cost methodologies. This point, added to financial speculation, are aspects of coffee volatility, she reiterates. The production cost is “hazy” since “there is no common methodology in the world.”
The working group brings together 15 experts in the coffee chain. Brazil has Maciel Silva, a member of the Brazilian Agriculture and Livestock Confederation (CNA), as its representative. The objective is to propose a methodology applicable to different realities.
Other two lines are projects involving environmental recovery and commercial relations. “We thought about how to show the world that agribusiness is not a villain in environmental issues and the idea is to expose what is in progress, like the SOS Mata Atlântica project with Nespresso in Brazil,” she said.
With regard to the work of reintegrating the U.S. — an important consumer country that left the ICO in 2018, under former President Donald Trump — the strategy is to get closer to the Biden administration, involving producing countries that already have a system of lobbying the Americans. The ICO also has the support of the U.S. green, roasted and specialty coffee associations.
Source: Valor International