Illycaffè Says Coffee’s Role Is Now In Social Development and Fighting Climate Change


Coffee production is critical to both social development and slowing climate change, according to Illycaffè’s recent United Nations roundtable.

At the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Illycaffè organized a round table discussion as part of the Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award 2023. The round table highlighted the crucial need for global cooperation, sustainable practices, and significant investments to ensure the future of coffee production in the face of climate change and social challenges.

The event, moderated by Vanessa Facenda, editor-in-chief of Tea & Coffee magazine, brought together some of the foremost experts in the coffee industry. The panel included Vanusia Nogueira, Executive Director of the International Coffee Organization, Andrea Illy, chairman of illycaffè and co-chair of Regenerative Society Foundation, economist Jeffrey Sachs, also a co-chair at Regenerative Society Foundation, Oscar Schaps, President of the Latin America division of Trading StoneX Financial Inc., and Glaucio De Castro, President of Federação dos Cafeicultores do Cerrado Mineiro.

A coffee harvester in Indonesia
A coffee harvester in Indonesia | Photo Courtesy Delightin Dee

The focus of the round table was the future of coffee production in the context of social development and the urgent need to adapt to climate change. Coffee cultivation, a primary agricultural activity for millions in tropical mountainous regions, is predominantly managed by small farmers. Approximately 12.5 million farms are involved in coffee production, with 95 percent of these farms occupying less than five hectares, and 84 percent having less than two hectares. This creates a substantial dependency on coffee cultivation for many countries’ exports.

Andrea Illy discussed the need for improved agronomic practices and the introduction of more resistant plant varieties to adapt to climate change. “Two things are needed for adaptation to climate change: improved agronomic practices and the renewal of plantations with more resistant varieties. Regenerative agriculture seems to provide an answer to the first need, and I hope that this will become a model for the whole caffeiculture. As far as renewal is concerned, we need to speed up considerably,’ Illy said. ‘All this requires supply chain investments that cannot be delayed any longer.”

However, challenges such as low and volatile coffee prices have significantly impacted farming communities over the past two decades. The Coffee Barometer report highlights the acute relevance of this issue for producers in regions contributing fifteen percent of global volumes, like Africa and Central America. Despite remarkable advancements in ‘de-commoditization’ of coffee, which have enhanced economic, social, and environmental sustainability, these gains are now threatened by the impacts of climate change.

The consensus at the round table leaned toward regenerative agriculture as a viable solution. This approach is known for its resilience and environmental and health benefits but necessitates significant investment, estimated at $10 billion over the next decade. Given the financial constraints of producer countries, the need for private-public partnerships to mobilize international supply chain funds was emphasized.

illycafe's new regenerative coffee
Illycafè debuts regenerative-certified coffee | Courtesy

Vanusia Nogueira, Executive Director of the ICO, stressed the importance of collective action in this sector. “For having a future in coffee we need to think about the Planet and the people involved in that. It’s part of our responsibility as leaders of this sector to look for alternatives to provide good life to the producers and their families and also to take care of our Planet. It’s clear that the challenges are big enough to not be addressed individually but in a collective and pre-competitive effort. Together I believe we can find impactful solutions,” Nogueira said.

Jeffrey Sachs, renowned economist, highlighted the global nature of coffee production and the necessity of sustainable economic development. “My morning coffee will never be grown in Central Park but will continue to be grown in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. A well-managed developing country with access to major markets and international finance can grow very quickly.” Sachs further elaborated on the importance of sustainable development and the regeneration of natural capital for the well-being of society.

“True economic development aims to transform our society by creating sustainable increases in wellbeing through investments in human capital, physical infrastructure, and business enterprise, all with attention to the preservation of natural capital on which our economy and survival depend,” he said. “After decades of severe human-induced environmental degradation, we need to transform our economies to the core principles of sustainable development and the regeneration of natural capital.  The most basic principle of all is to act for the common good.  This means that we must start from cooperation within our communities, our nations, and globally.”

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