This project explores the role of global value chains in transitions to sustainability, with a focus on the coffee sector. The demand for coffee is likely to double over the next decades, while the area suitable for coffee production is expected to decrease by half by because of climate change. How can the coffee industry produce twice as much coffee on half the land? Based on two studies from Burundi and Ethiopia, this project analyzes how specialty coffee production affects land use and adapts to climate change.
Findings from the Burundian and Ethiopian studies indicate that the production of specialty coffee is more sustainable and aligned with climate change adaptation. For example, in Ethiopia, an analysis of land-use change in the Yirgacheffe region based on satellite imagery documents changes from forests to semi-plantations representing a hybrid form of forest and coffee production. However, the research also found that an increasing demand for quality coffee in the global market has influenced smallholders' land use decisions and practices of land management. A difference has been found in the approach to land use among coffee farmers who cooperate with specialty coffee value chains, compared to those who sell to conventional value chains. Many specialty coffee farmers practice pruning, terracing, soil binding and compost, rainwater harvesting, shade tree management and shifting nursery seasons for coffee seedlings. In contrast to conventional coffee farmers, the research found a significant association between most climate change adaptation practices and quality coffee production. The research also shows that land use is influenced by enacted values of actors in the global value chain.
The human values of farmers and business actors have proven to be important in understanding changing practices for land use. For example, while Ethiopian farmers strongly identify with coffee as their heritage, traditional coffee farmers in Burundi associate coffee with abuse. The research shows that when coffee farmers were neglected as human beings, they neglected their land. Coffee farmers have experienced repeated breaches of contracts, resulting in both financial loss and emotional abuse. The combination of these conditions means that coffee in Burundi has long formed and represented values of authority and violence. These values are in stark contrast to what coffee farmers deem to be important, namely dignity, care, and respect. Coffee farmers do not want to invest either time or resources in something that deprives them of dignity and respect. As a result, Burundi's coffee sector has long been dominated by passive land use, resulting in coffee trees that produce a limited yield of low quality.
The Burundi study focuses on how the production of specialty coffee has affected land-use practices among farmers in Kayanza. The specialty coffee company researched worked explicitly with values such as dignity, respect, and care. These values manifested in how they taught agronomic practices such as pruning, mulching, planting new coffee, and shade trees. The way these new land-use practices were approached helped to reconfigure the values coffee represented from violence and authority to dignity and respect. Farmers increasingly fertilized their lands and practiced pest control. This study finds that changed land-use practices are related to the observed increase in yield, quality, and price of coffee. These land-use intensification practices are in line with expert recommendations for adapting coffee production to climate change. A unique contribution from this research is that changes in land use are strongly influenced by the quality of the relationships with the actors in the value chain.
The research used participatory visual photo-elicitation method in Burundi. An unexpected result has been the adoption of this as a tool for deeper collaboration between farmers and the company. This has resulted in artwork shown on social media, photo exhibitions in Berlin and Vienna, lectures, and it has led to new dialogues between coffee professionals and consumers. The goal of "coffee voices" is an authentic relationship between farmers and consumers through stories that include universal human values that cut across race, time, space, and class. This part of the project has an Instagram account coffee_voices.
GVC-Transitions is a research project that explores how changes in global value chains contribute to societal transitions to sustainability. In particular, the project will analyze how coffee production in East Africa, known to cause environmental degradation and maintain rural poverty, can become more sustainable under increasingly challenging conditions. More specifically, the project will investigate how the global value chain of specialty coffee affects the farmers capacity to cope. The research project is co-designed in partnership with stakeholders from the speciality coffee industry who have identified the need to change coffee production practices towards a process of improvement rather than exploitation. Based on two ethnographic case studies from coffee production in Burundi and Ethiopia, the research will explore how complex socio-ecological processes are evolving in response to changing environmental and economic conditions. Novel qualitative methods that allow for in-depth analysis of such complexity will be employed to evaluate and develop different strategies for societal transitions towards sustainability in natural resource based communities. The research will be carried out as an academic North-South partnership between the University of Oslo, and Addis Ababa University. GVC-Transitions is built upon co-production of knowledge with relevant stakeholder such as coffee farmers, the private and public sector. These user groups will be included in the research throughout the project cycle, and will benefit from dissemination activities.