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Green Mountain Coffee Roasters: Brewing Change for Smallholder Farmers

By Olivia Allen

On Wednes­day, March 26, the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute hosted Rick Peyser, Direc­tor of Social Advo­cacy and Sup­ply Chain Com­mu­nity Out­reach for its monthly lec­ture series event to give a lec­ture titled “Behind the Bean: Brew­ing Change at Green Moun­tain Cof­fee Roasters.”

Peyser, who has worked for Green Moun­tain Cof­fee Roast­ers (GMCR) since 1987 became stew­ard of small cof­fee farm­ers  after a field visit in which he wit­nessed the irony of mal­nour­ished farm­ers first­hand in Chi­a­pas, Mex­ico. These field expe­ri­ences, rep­re­sent­ing the first time “some­one had put a human face on cof­fee,” said Peyser, drove him to pio­neer sus­tain­able sourc­ing prac­tices within GMCR and start his own orga­ni­za­tion, Food4Farmers which addresses food inse­cu­rity in farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties in Latin America.

After years of tact­fully exe­cuted field research that pri­mar­ily val­ued farmer-bred solu­tions, Peyser high­lighted increas­ing food secu­rity, the imple­men­ta­tion of drip irri­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy, access to health­care, and income diver­si­fi­ca­tion as the core focuses of GMCR’s pro­grams sur­round­ing improv­ing the liveli­hoods of small­holder cof­fee pro­duc­ers in Latin Amer­ica. The com­pany has directed $10.6 mil­lion in fund­ing to these ini­tia­tives in the 2013 fis­cal year alone.

In addi­tion to invest­ing in pro­duc­ers within their sup­ply chain, GMCR has shown their com­mit­ment to small­holder farm­ers through using their pur­chas­ing power to be the largest buyer of Fair Trade cer­ti­fied cof­fee. As an early adopter of Fair Trade Cer­ti­fied cof­fee pur­chases with 600,000 pur­chased in 2001, the com­pany, who pur­chased 50 mil­lion pounds of Fair Trade Cof­fee in 2013 has clearly pri­or­i­tized the inclu­sion and liveli­hoods of small­holder farm­ers as a crit­i­cal piece in their sup­ply chain.

Despite lead­ing the indus­try in bring­ing sus­tain­ably sourced cof­fee to the main­stream cof­fee con­sumer, Peyser also spoke to the grow­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion in the indus­try, best rep­re­sented by the for­ma­tion of the Cof­fee­lands Food Secu­rity Coali­tion. The coali­tion, com­posed of  six large cof­fee com­pa­nies – Counter Cul­ture, Farmer Broth­ers, Green Moun­tain Cof­fee Roast­ers, S&D Cof­fee, Star­bucks, and Sus­tain­able Har­vest – along with the Spe­cial­ity Cof­fee Asso­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, have joined forces to address sea­sonal hunger, or “los meses fla­cos” (the thin months) in cof­fee pro­duc­ing regions.

 GMCR is a tes­ta­ment to the fact a publicly-traded cor­po­ra­tions can hold social val­ues at its core, while still exhibit­ing high growth, prof­itabil­ity, and met­rics val­ued by tra­di­tional, rather than impact investors. In fact, GMCR’s net sales for the 2013 fis­cal year totaled $4.4 bil­lion, in turn cap­tur­ing the atten­tion of Coca-Cola, who recently bought a 10% stake in the com­pany for $1.25 bil­lion. Clearly, even in a period of tremen­dous growth, GMCR’s com­mit­ment to the inter­ests of small­holder farm­ers across the world has remained at the fore­front of their operations.

 With an esti­mated 25 mil­lion cof­fee farm­ers in the world, GMCR real­izes that invest­ing in small­holder farm­ers, the most impor­tant ele­ment of their sup­ply chain sim­ply makes sense, a sen­ti­ment echoed by Peyser who remarked “there is a direct link between the qual­ity of life [of the farm­ers] and the qual­ity of cof­fee produced.”