Starbucks agronomist Carlos Mario Rodriguez crouches down in a nursery full of coffee plants, inspecting row upon row of bright green seedlings under the azure Costa Rican sky. He has spent the last two decades helping farmers around the world on how to grow high quality, arabica coffee.
This need has become more urgent for the specialty coffee industry as a result of the variables that come with climate change. Farmers and their families, who once expected to have a predictable number of coffee cherries to sell, cannot always rely on that any more.
“Being a coffee farmer is increasingly hard. It’s why I spend my days in the coffee fields helping farmers consider new ways to grow coffee that are more sustainable, long term,” said Rodriguez. “In particular, this hot weather means an increase in coffee rust, a fungus that damages millions of coffee trees around the world, making it harder for farmers to produce high-quality coffee.”
One Tree for Every Bag
Coffee trees that offer rust resistance are at the heart of Starbucks One Tree for Every Bag commitment launched in September, on National Coffee Day. At that time, the company pledged to plant one rust-resistant coffee tree for each bag of packaged coffee purchased in U.S. Starbucks stores through September 2016.
In just the first month of the program, Starbucks customers have purchased one million bags of coffee. Combined with Starbucks initial investment of one million trees, this means that two million coffee trees are already slated to be distributed next harvest to farming communities in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.
But the potential impact is much greater. If the last month is any indication, this program is well on its way to making sure that more than 12 million coffee trees are planted in sourcing regions around the world. This becomes a tangible impact to an industry that relies on millions of farmers and their families to ensure specialty coffee is available for generations to come.
“Our unique ability is to leverage our scale, not only engage our customers in a dialogue about where their coffee comes from, but to adopt a sustainable sourcing strategy that other companies in our industry can be a part of and benefit from as well,” said Craig Russell, executive vice president, Global Coffee for Starbucks.
“Our company really cares about our coffee farmers, the living conditions of their families and the environmental sustainability,” Rodriguez said. “Our open-source strategy is unique, and we are inviting other companies to adopt this model as a way to benefit the global coffee sector.”