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What does the UN have to say about food and agriculture sustainability and where do we fit in?

It's all very well talking about sustainability and individual companies getting behind drives to make their operations more ecological, but there are certain key principles to which everyone must adhere if there is to be a universal understanding of exactly what constitutes sustainable practice.

In a bid to improve understanding and to promote clarity of this issue, the United Nations (UN) published its Food and Agriculture Business Principles, which the organisation describes as "the first set of global voluntary business principles for the food and agriculture sector".

To address each of the different aspects of sustainable practices in food and agriculture, the principles cover a range of issues from health and safety to human rights, as well as safeguarding the economic viability of businesses that operate within the food and agricultural sector.

At DR Wakefield, operating in a way that is sustainable is of paramount importance to us – something that is clearly highlighted when we consider each of the UN's principles in turn.

Aim for food security, health and nutrition

Optimising production and minimising waste – two of the key parts to this – are at the heart of cultivation processes right at the source of the green coffee supply chain. It is vital that waste products are, ideally, converted back into something useful – for example, cherry pulp being used as fertiliser – or, alternatively, disposed of responsibly.

Standards such as organic accreditation ensure that our green coffee plants have been grown, nurtured, cultivated and processed in the most responsible and environmentally-friendly ways possible, with us regularly taking trips to source countries to ensure these standards are being met.

Be environmentally responsible

Again, and as with all six of these principles, looking after the environment is of paramount importance in the coffee trade. After all, without Mother Nature, there wouldn't be a coffee trade in the first place.

One way the coffee industry does this is to use natural resources wherever possible. For example, rather than using commercial drying machines to dry out coffee beans that have been removed from the cherries, given that coffee tends to be grown in hot countries between the tropics, processors capitalise on the sun's rays and use it to naturally dry them.

Another example is shade grown coffee, which makes use of natural foliage to create the microclimates the farmers require, rather than building cumbersome structures for this purpose.

Ultimately, safeguarding the environment is at the forefront of everything that we – and those that we work with – do.

Ensure economic viability and share value

Selling the right coffee at the right price is at the core of our business model. However, selling at the right price doesn't just mean doing so by the consumer – that is, cheaply; it means ensuring a fair price for the farmer at the beginning of the supply chain. This is why we believe so strongly in Fairtrade practices and work to safeguard the high quality of Fairtrade coffees, as both quality and price are equally important – and we compromise on neither.

Respect human rights, create decent work and help communities to thrive

With a product like coffee – for which the supply chain is drawn out over distance and time, and involves many different people – it is vital to look after the individuals who make the green coffee trade what it is. 

The majority of green coffee is grown in poorer developing countries and by people whose livelihoods – both theirs and their families' – absolutely depend on the crop. Therefore, it is vital to support projects that invest in those at the source of the supply chain to ensure they have the tools and resources they need both to do their job and, ultimately, survive.

Encourage good governance and accountability

The UN dictates that companies should "behave legally and responsibly by respecting land and natural resource rights, avoiding corruption, being transparent about activities and recognising their impacts". 

One of the key parts of our operations is to ensure that local farmers with a lack of knowledge are not exploited by corrupt middlemen. As experts in our fields, we know our markets inside out, making regular trips to origins to make sure that everything we do is in line with local regulations and customs, and promotes honest and accountable business.

Promote access and transfer of knowledge, skills and technology

In order to be able to cultivate, process and ship great-quality coffee, farmers must have the right resources – both in terms of knowledge, competences and equipment – at their disposal. Given that many of these individuals may not come from backgrounds which afforded them a comprehensive education, it is vital that we help to provide farmers with the tools they need to produce high-quality green coffee.