Olam gains water certification for plantation as Fairtrade warns of climate-driven coffee decline

With a new report from Fairtrade warning that climate change could stunt global coffee production by 50%, supplier Olam International has become the first agri-business globally to achieve the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard - for it's coffee plantation in Tanzania.

The AWS Standard – a global best practice in collaborative water management – was certified at Olam’s Aviv Coffee Plantation in Southern Tanzania. Olam has complied with a six-step continual improvement framework, established by AWS, to ensure that 300,000 people living in the surroundings of Tanzania’s Ruvuma River Basin had access to a clean and secure source of water.

Olam’s environmental and social manager for plantations and farming in South and East Africa Jeremy Dufour said: “The Ruvuma River is the lifeblood of the whole region, so in developing the plantation we take care to ensure that our irrigation needs do not impact adversely on its eco-system and the other water users, such as local communities and the local hydro-electric plant.

“But with climate change an increasing threat, we must ensure that our usage in years to come does not upset the balance. The Standard brought three major benefits: for communities beyond our boundaries, the best practice guidance helped us to convene the different river users to address shared challenges and scenario plan, particularly for extreme events such as droughts.

“For our workforce, the Standard has further strengthened our provision of Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) facilities. For our customers, the transparent verification process provides third-party reassurance for their own product quality controls and water foot-printing.”

Olam becomes the first agri-business to be certified by AWS and also the first business to achieve certification in Africa, where the Aviv plantation accounts for 1,025 hectares of Arabica coffee collection. The other two sites that have reached the AWS Standard are water technology company Ecolab’s China-based facilities and poultry company Inghams Enterprises’ food processing plant in Australia.

Olam, which orginally piloted the Standard framework alongside Ecolab and WWF at its onion drying plant in California, will now explore the possibilities of a global roll-out across the 70 countries that it operates in. The company had already reached a 2020 target to reduce water use by 10% per tonne of product in farms and plantations but recognises it has “further to go” across other departments.

A Brewing Storm

While the landmark certification was reached as World Water Week commences, it also arrived as a joint report between the Fairtrade Foundation and the Climate Institute revealed that an increase in temperatures and extreme weather will lead to a decline in coffee production over the next 30 years.

The “A Brewing Storm: The climate change risks to coffee” report revealed that between 80 to 90% of the world’s 25 million coffee farmers are smallholders located on the ‘bean belt’ – which covers 70 developing countries such as Vietnam, Colombia and Brazil – and are therefore “the most exposed to climate change”.

The Climate Institute’s chief executive John Connor said: “Without strong climate action, the areas suitable for growing coffee could halve in a few decades, pushing production upslope, away from the equator and into conflict with other land uses, such as nature conservation and forestry. By 2080 wild coffee, an important genetic resource for farmers, could be extinct.”

The report warned that consumers are likely to be faced with supply shortages, rising prices and lower-quality flavours and aromas. With coffee beans proving their worth beyond flavour and taste, including powering homes and storing methane, urgent climate action might be required to unlock the potential of coffee beans as a sustainable innovation.

Matt Mace

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