Following the EU Regulation on Deforestation-Free Products, the coffee supply chain will need to make some big changes in order to contribute to a more sustainable industry. Read on to find out more about what this regulation means for the coffee sector.
What is the EU Regulation on Deforestation-Free Products?
The EU Regulation on Deforestation-Free Products, or EUDR is a law passed by the European Union on 29 June 2023 that requires seven key commodities and their derivatives not to contribute to deforestation. These are cattle, cocoa, oil palm, rubber, soya, wood, and coffee.
The regulation applies to these goods that have been produced from June 29 2023 onward and will be fully enforced from 30 December 2024. By this date, goods that do not adhere to these regulations will be prohibited from being traded within the EU. It falls to the suppliers of these goods to then ensure that their traded products do not contribute to further deforestation.
Why is the EUDR Important?
About one-third of the earth’s land is forested, and this equates to approximately four billion hectares of land. Currently, deforestation is a dangerous necessity. While it allows for further infrastructure development, forests are an integral element to our ecosystem as they allow biodiversity to thrive and absorb harmful CO2 from our atmosphere.
Between 1990 and 2020 alone, an estimated 10% of the world’s remaining forests have been lost to deforestation, which has had a detrimental effect on global warming and biodiversity loss. An ever-growing global demand for these seven products places more strain on our already endangered forests. The EUDR is a step toward reducing the environmental threats to our planet by encouraging the regrowth of our precious ecosystems.
On the other hand, as it currently stands, global demand for these commodities, in this case, coffee, has no intention of stopping. Businesses and stakeholders need to continue trading products such as coffee, or risk insecurity. The EUDR therefore poses an array of challenges and opportunities for the coffee industry to both satisfy demand and work toward solving climate change.
EUDR and The Coffee Industry
The origin of coffee is rooted in forests, specifically from the tropical forests of Ethiopia and South Sudan. It was in the shade of these forests that coffea species thrived. Eventually, with the advent of the commercialisation of coffee, coffee varietals such as coffea robusta were cultivated on a huge scale. Robusta is considered a ‘sun-grown’ varietal. While it is much easier to grow compared to the more favoured and sweeter coffea arabica varietal, its growth depends on deforestation. Since demand is so high, robusta is preferred by larger industries since it is easier to cut forests down to reach higher yields.
Today, the yearly increase of coffee land reaches about 100,000 hectares. Since demand is increasing, this means that more forests are being cut down to provide the necessary land to meet this global demand. This is much more of an issue in the Central and South American coffee sector, yet is also present in Africa.
One of the more pressing issues for African coffee agroforestry, and specifically arabica farming is the rise in global temperatures. This is making it harder to cultivate coffee in the lower regions due to much harsher growing conditions. As a result, plantations are being pushed up into higher altitude rain forests, where conditions are more favourable. However, this will place much more pressure on these valuable high-altitude forests.
The issue of deforestation not only concerns making new land for coffee farms but also concerns the needs of the farming communities. Compared to the other commodities mentioned in the EUDR, coffee farms themselves do not contribute as much to deforestation. Currently, coffee accounts for around 7% of EU-driven deforestation.
However, coffee-growing communities, especially small-holder farms, enact deforestation for necessities such as firewood. Along with this, settlement expansion and infrastructure development also contribute to deforestation in these areas.
So, on the horizon of the environmental solutions brought with the dawn of the EUDR are an array of issues the coffee sector must face if it is to comply and thrive in a more sustainable supply chain. At the forefront of these challenges is the call for more agronomic coffee environments and support for their farming communities.
EUDR and Sustainable Coffee
Currently, one of the most pressing factors the coffee industry must take into account is that of transparency. This is somewhat of a complex operation throughout the coffee supply chain that may be shrouded in mystery for some coffee suppliers.
An important part of the EUDR is providing this transparency. This is important as it tracks which farms are presently involved with deforestation, and allows the coffee suppliers to inform their customers - which are typically roasters - about how sustainable their coffee is. Ideally, this creates a clear line of information from the coffee farm to the customer, allowing all parties involved to be part of a greener coffee industry.
To provide this transparency, geolocation of coffee plantations needs to be provided for coffee suppliers. For farms over four hectares, this will be done by providing polygons. For farms under four hectares, a single point of longitude and latitude is sufficient.
Modern technology is integral for providing this data. Nonprofit organisations such as TechnoServe are currently working toward making this traceability easier. Their free and open-sourced Android application has been developed with the help of the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA). The application connects with EUSPA satellites to provide geolocation data on coffee farms in Ethiopia and Kenya, along with a select few other countries. The data is then shared with its users, providing not only the geolocation, but also the farmer's name, the village, and the year the farmer sold to an agent or wet mill. This application is currently in its beta stage and is planned to be available to all coffee producing countries by 2025.
Omwani and EUDR
To promote the sustainable values of the EUDR, Omwani sees it as a vital importance to do our part as early as possible. We want to ensure that we are continuously supporting our partners and remain at the forefront of EU deforestation compliance.
TechnoServe has provided us with access to the beta program of their application. By the time this is implemented, we will be the first in the country to trial this new software. Our early access to this cutting-edge resource will enable us to test its capabilities, along with providing valuable feedback to the TechnoServe development team.
In addition to testing the new geolocation software, Omwani is working hard to further support our partners in light of the EUDR. We will be offering to cover the cost of any additional phones or other technologies required to implement the proper data-gathering efforts with each of our partners.
Omwani’s Partners and EUDR
At the moment, the UK does not have the same direct legal obligations to adhere to the EUDR compared to EU countries, so the responsibility falls to suppliers such as us, along with the hard work of our partners, to contribute to making the coffee industry much more sustainable for our UK customers.
Our partners operate within several countries in Africa, allowing us direct communication with the coffee farms we source from. This enables us to realise with as much transparency as possible how compliance with the EUDR is currently going, and what is being done to help to reduce deforestation in Africa.
In Burundi, our partner Migoti has already collected the necessary data for EUDR compliance in 2021. Migoti works to support the coffee farms in the Bujumbura Rurale Province in west Burundi by developing and maintaining infrastructure and communication between the surrounding farming communities. This also involves the operation of modern washing stations, allowing these farms more opportunity in the global coffee market.
With collected geocoordinates, along with other valuable data of these coffee farms, Migoti is in a great position to quickly comply with EUDR requirements, as well as share their valuable collected data with other producers throughout Burundi. In addition to this, this also helps our partners understand their wider coffee communities, as well as provide transparency of information flows and statistics around the globe.
Our partners in Rwanda, Rwamatamu, are also working hard to certify their products with EUDR. The family-owned producer, Rwamatamu has been operating in Kiyube in the western provinces of Rwanda since 2015. Their coffee plantation and washing station have served to help their local communities through an abundance of opportunities. Among these are jobs such as harvesting and coffee processing, along with an exchange of essential values such as community, integrity, and sustainability.
Currently, Rwamatamu are working hard to empower their producers to comply with the EUDR by locally sharing their understanding and responsibility. Being away from their washing station for most of the year, the Rwamatamu family have been working on a fund to support their local partners, which will provide access to essential technologies. This will enable their communities to properly map their farms and provide the necessary geolocation data for full transparency.
While transparency is a start at transforming the coffee industry into a much more sustainable sector, the EUDR reminds the sector of near-future solutions that can be further worked upon. Instead of supporting the destructive sun-grown coffee industry, a return to agronomic roots is integral if coffee is to remain an abundant and sustainable global commodity. Not only does shade-grown coffee encourage the abundance of forested areas for shade growth, but also encourages techniques such as intercropping, which results in healthy biodiversity.