InterAmerican Coffee Australia on the importance of sustainable supply chains

InterAmerican Coffee Australia explains why traceable, sustainable supply chains are becoming increasingly important, and how it’s helping roasters meet their compliance requirements and continuous improvement objectives.

Unlike terms such as ‘organic’ and ‘carbon neutral’ that must meet strict criteria to earn certification, the word ‘sustainability’ has no mutually agreed standards. What one business considers sustainable could be very different to that of another.

This ambiguity is something green-coffee sourcing specialist InterAmerican Coffee Australia, together with its parent company Neumann Kaffee Gruppe (NKG), strives to avoid when supplying its Australian roaster partners with quality coffee beans from the 19 origins from which it sources.

“The messaging around sustainability isn’t always verifiable and this is because people often have different interpretations of the term,” says Rudy Huemer, InterAmerican Coffee Operations Manager.

“Realistically, the most objective way of assessing sustainability and traceability is through certifications that are validated by a third party and provide an evidence-based approach.”

According to General Manager Daniel Vella, the time is coming where green-bean suppliers and roasters will have to demonstrate the credentials of their coffee in measurable terms.

“While it’s not an Australian regulation, the new European Union Deforestation Regulation is a sign of things to come in terms of compliance,” says Daniel.

“Corporate customers like contract caterers and airlines are seeking coffees that are demonstrably traceable, while financial institutions and governments are also looking to ensure their partners operate in a way that is compliant and sustainable.”

With core company principles that focus on preserving the planet and empowering producers, InterAmerican Coffee Australia and its fellow NKG export companies are committed to making the supply chain more sustainable. They aim to bridge the gap between farmers and roasters, and provide businesses with the credentials they need to succeed.

“We understand roasters have constraints, such as the rising costs of labour, rent, and energy, and need to make ends meet. However, we are also aware of coffee producers’ challenges, and we believe certifications and cost-effective sustainability programs are a great way to fulfil the requirements of both farmers and roasters,” says Rudy.

Since it was established in 2020, InterAmerican Coffee Australia has offered coffees with Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, and organic certifications as part of its catalogue. Alongside these widely recognised markers, in 2021 parent company NKG also introduced its own internal programs, NKG Verified and NKG Bloom.

“NKG Verified serves to assess the supply chains and ensure minimum requirements are met, such as the European Union’s sustainability goals. For example, it ensures there is no slave labour, acceptable working conditions, and access to essential facilities such as toilets and dormitories,” says Rudy.

For InterAmerican Coffee’s customers, this verification comes at a premium of AU $0.15 to $0.20 per kilogram, which Rudy says pays for the auditors who visit the farms and the financial incentives farmers are given to take part in the program.

Another option of certification is NKG Bloom, a finalist at the Specialty Coffee Association’s 2023 Sustainability Awards. The program covers the basic principles of NKG Verified but also provides additional services to coffee farmers, such as access to financial services and agronomists.

“Because agriculture is a risky endeavour in developing countries, it can be very hard for small producers to access finance, which leads to less than optimum farm care and ultimately lower yields. Through NKG Bloom, we can provide financial services, farmer education, and develop stronger partnership with producers,” says Dan.

“It also provides access to agronomists, who help with soil assessments, health checks on trees, and recommending best practices. The agronomists have access to the latest knowledge and suggest sustainable changes that can make the farms more efficient, such as turning coffee pulp into fertiliser.”

Rudy says the main goal of NKG Bloom is increasing yield for producers and therefore improving their income, with increased quality as by-product of better farm care. For coffee roasters, it’s an opportunity to know exactly where their coffee is procured and that it has a positive impact on the people who produce it.
Daniel believes this is particularly important because many of the producers they work with are smallholders, not large farms.

“NKG Bloom gives roasters an opportunity to provide life-changing support to smallholders, and share the positive outcomes with their customers,” he says.

“The vast majority of the world’s coffee farmers are smallholders, not larger scale producers who can operate and trade as a single farm and who are often well established, financed, and benefit from economies of scale. The producer group requiring the most support in our industry is smallholder farmers.”

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This article appears in the June 2024 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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