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An overview of sustainability in the Brazilian coffee industry

Sustainability has become an increasingly used term in recent years, as companies and industries around the world place a greater emphasis on ensuring both their economic and environmental policies are maintained to a high standard.

As the world's largest producer and exporter of coffee, Brazil is an interesting location to look at in terms of both agricultural and, in particular, coffee industry sustainability.

At DR Wakefield, we understand the importance of this issue when sourcing our green coffee, but what measures does the South American country have in place to ensure its sustainability standards are maintained? How could these be set to change in the coffee and agricultural industries in the future?

Agricultural sustainability in Brazil

Looking at the World Energy Council's Sustainability Index results for 2013 – the most recent available figures – Brazil jumped up ten places in the last year alone, which was partly due to economic growth, but the country also ranked highly with regard to environmental sustainability.

A report from the organisation stated one of the ways Brazil could move forward even further in relation to sustainability would be by placing a greater focus on crops, such as coffee beans.

The World Energy Council stated: "Policymakers should focus on the possibilities presented by biomass, including sugar cane, planted wood and other crops."

How does this relate to the coffee industry?

IDH, the sustainable trade initiative, chose Brazil as one of the first countries to be added to its Sustainable Coffee Programme (SCP) earlier this year, alongside fellow coffee producing giants Ethiopia, Uganda and Vietnam.

Before being awarded this prestigious accreditation, members of the SCP visited the country to see its coffee industry in action, with events including a tour of Brazil's most significant coffee producing state Minas Gerais, as well as a visit to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The latter tour involved members of the Steering Committee learning about how sustainability is one of the criteria for financing projects that are designed to help small families of coffee growers in Brazil, further highlighting the issue's importance.

Lessons Brazil could learn

However, in a piece for the Guardian, branding and engagement consultant Harriet Kingaby suggested a few lessons Brazil could learn from other countries in order to improve its sustainability even further.

Ms Kingaby suggests looking at how the country communicates about its products with the wider world could help, by placing a greater focus on high-quality advertising and public relations to ensure the rest of the globe understands its sustainability policies.

The expert also wrote the country needs to ensure it is taking advantage of all advertising channels, including social media platforms, to make sure the rest of the world knows its stance on sustainability.

Ms Kingaby concluded: "Brazil presents great opportunities. The desire for social and – to some extent, environmental – change is mainstream.

"The chance to build brand value through problem solving is there. Yet, so is the danger of repeating the mistakes of the west, creating apathy through overpriced products, sustainability ghettoisation and false promises."

What's next for Brazilian sustainability?

The country is introducing new policies all the time with regard to sustainable agriculture, which could potentially help a whole variety of sectors, including the coffee industry.

For instance, earlier this year Brazil brought in a new piece of legislation, which includes remineralisation as a primary part of its agricultural policy. This term refers to the process by which rock dust is added to certain soils to help prevent vital nutrients being lost while a crop is still growing.

At the time of the policy's introduction, founder and executive director of Remineralise the Earth Joanna Campe spoke to Organic Connections, stating: "This is a highly significant event. It clearly established Brazil as the emerging leader for remineralisation in the public policy arena pertaining to agriculture."

This is just one way in which Brazil is currently working to improve its agricultural sustainability, so it will be interesting to see further developments the country makes in relation to this subject in the near future, with a potential impact on the world's biggest coffee industry.