Global giant Nestlé sources and processes about 10% of the world’s coffee beans. It owns countless coffee brands scattered across the world. One of its most famous brands, Nescafé, may have fallen out of favor in much of North America and Europe, but instant coffee still thrives. From South America to the Middle East and East Asia, Nescafé is alive and well, as are the robusta coffee bean farms from which instant coffee, and many espresso blends, are often sourced. Now an epynomous plan will work to ensure that many of Nestlé’s beans are grown responsibly.
In the coming decade, Nestlé will work on improving coffee yields while mitigating environmental damage with the sustainable agriculture advocacy group The Rainforest Alliance. The US$336 million Nescafé Plan commits Nestlé to expand its agricultural research and training capacity for the benefit the 25 million people who make their living growing and trading coffee beans. Overall, the agenda aims to increase coffee production while reducing water use, eliminating agrochemicals, and without cutting down more rain forests.
The Nescafé Plan adopts more agricultural practices to improve coffee farmers’ yields, but favors natural hybrids over genetically modified beans. If all goes to plan, Nestlé will buy an annual 90,000 tons of beans from about 170,000 farmers, who will use strains that resist disease and can withstand any volitale weather patters that could result from a changing climate.
By 2015, all of this coffee will be vetted to ensure that it meets 4C Standards, the Common Code for the Coffee Community guidelines for farmers who work to ensure their coffee-growing lands are cared for without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Nestlé agronomists, Alliance advocates, and experts from the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) will work to educate more farmers on safer and improved coffee growing techniques.
It’s a bold plan that will witness pilot projects evolve in nations like Thailand, the Philipines, and Mexico. It is an uphill battle as well. Even if the plan completely succeeds, only 10% of Nestlé’s beans will meet SAN’s standards in 2020. Companies like Nestlé often withstand attack from sustainability advocates, but part of the issue is the long tangled supply chain that is often unwieldy and difficult to monitor. Nestlé’s investment in sustainability, which in total is about a half billion US dollar investment when other projects are added, is a solid start. And much of The Rainforest Alliance’s work and that of its partners will have to occur in Vietnam if those beans are going to become pulverized into Nescafé: one-third of the world’s robusta beans, which are cheaper therefore to grow and become your instant coffee source, are grown in the long southeast Asian country.