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"Impact at Origin - Specialty Coffee Takes the Lead" Tea & Coffee Journal, December 2000, Michael Ferguson

"USAID began to realize that the traditionalcommodity approaches that had worked well with many agricultural products were neither economically nor environmentally sustainable in the long term, especially for smallholder coffee farmers. This evolution in USAID's approach allowed a quality driven coffee project to emerge in Peru's Apurimac River Valley.  Partnering with Seattle's Best Coffee Company and the nonprofit rural development organization, Winrock International, USAID funded the renovation of over 2,000 hectares of coffee land over a four-year period, making substantial improvements in both harvesting and processing practices. While USAID provided the funding, Winrock worked within the farm communities, and Seattle's Best Coffee provided high profile market access. The positive results prompted Michael Maxey from the USAID Peru office to explore the idea of using the Peru model worldwide. While seeking potential private sector partners, those who understood, or were at least attempting to address, the interplay between quality and sustainability, Maxey found the SCAA.  Suddenly, "global reach" seemed like a real possibility."

Every story has a beginning -- and my journey in drafting a global coffee strategy began 1994 with Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America.  Part of his focus was to reduce the size of government including  our foreign aid programs and the best way to do this was to reduce staffing levels at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  With the Republican victory and Gingrich in control of a majority in the House of Representatives a "reduction in force" (layoffs of staff) began at USAID.

I was a 43 years old and a middle level foreign service officer at USAID.  With three young children and a wife to support, I began to make contingency plans in the event I lost my job.  One of the first actions I took was to enroll in the University of Costa Rica executive Masters of Business Administration program and begin taking night classes in San Jose, Costa Rica.  As things turned out, I was not laid off but I continued taking the classes and eventually received an MBA in international marketing.  Part of my course work involved a special international marketing analysis and since I was by then working in Peru and focused on coffee production for small-scale farmers, I studied the coffee market with a special emphasis on finding ways to help small-scale producers access the higher premium market and obtain higher returns on their production.  The paper that I eventually submitted to satisfy the requirement of this class was the "USAID Global Coffee Strategy."   

The paper was broadly shared within USAID and the private coffee sector.  The strategy was incorporated into activities by USAID in Colombia, Ethiopia and Guatemala.  The approach went on to be embraced by the private sector through the Specialty Coffee Association of America and in 2000 an article was published in the Tea & Coffee Journal that highlighted the importance of specialty coffee in helping small-scale farmers have higher incomes. 

Many, many people were responsible for the success of this strategic approach but I remember David Bathrick of Winrock International was a driving force in making the Peru program a success.  Tom Geiger, the USAID Peru Mission Director from 1998 - 2002 was also a strong promoter of this private sector approach to international development.  As the program was adopted in other countries many others dedicated their efforts to helping small-scale coffee farmers have an opportunity to be heard in the U.S. specialty coffee sector.  Michael Deal, who in 2002 was the Assistant Administrator for the Latin America Bureau at USAID supported the design and implementation of a $20 million speciatly coffee initiative in Central America.  These were men and women with vision and that vision continues to this day as consumers are able to buy excellent Arabica coffee from micro-lots produced by small-scale coffee farmers from around the world. 

The next time you are in Trader Joe's look in their specialty coffee section to see how this coffee is being marketed.  And please remember to thank Newt Gingrich.
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