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ICO to host CEO and Global Leaders Forum

From the August 2019 issue.

As part of an ongoing sector-wide dialogue to address the coffee price crisis, the ICO is preparing for its first CEO and Global Leaders Forum in September.

With coffee prices experiencing a continued downward trend since 2016, the International Coffee Organization (ICO) has taken action to address the impact on coffee farmers.

In September 2018, the ICO´s governing body the International Coffee Council (ICC) approved Resolution 465 to address the impact of low prices on the livelihood of producers. Then, in March 2019, the organisation launched a sector-wide dialogue to identify and find solutions to the problem.

This dialogue will continue on 23 September, when the ICO will host its first CEO and Global Leaders Forum in London, United Kingdom, at the International Maritime Organization. The ICO says industry executives, government ministers, and association directors have confirmed their participation.

José Sette, Executive Director of the ICO, tells Global Coffee Report the forum is intended to build consensus on practical measures to address low coffee prices.

“The current situation has concentrated people’s attention. The question of sustainability was already on their radars, but the price crisis has had an unavoidable and dramatic impact on some origins. It’s leading to rural impoverishment, a reduction of coffee quality, and increased migration to developed countries,” Sette says. “All of these factors together have heightened the visibility of the challenges facing the world coffee sector. We have to use this moment to get people behind practical solutions that are long term.”

From March to June 2019, the ICO held five consultative events involving 80 different experts and over 2000 participants – from within and outside the industry – discussing sustainability, financing, investment, price volatility, and meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. These included a seminar in Nairobi, two events at the UN in New York, a workshop as part of the EXCO Development Fair in Rome, and a symposium hosted by the European Commission in Brussels.

Following these events, the ICO formulated a list of actions that could be taken to address the economic sustainability of the coffee industry. These range from increasing funding for the sustainability of the sector to improving risk management tools.

The ICO has worked closely with consultants, funded by the German government, to discuss these ideas with private entities, governmental bodies, and industry associations ahead of the CEO and Global Leaders Forum.

“We reached out to individual stakeholders to see which ideas can really unite people,” Sette says. “[So far,] we are encouraged by the positive response to our efforts to reach out to the industry, other international organisations, and member governments.”

The outcome of the forum will be set out in a formal declaration with concrete actions and an implementation plan, to be submitted to the 125th session of ICC from 23 to 27 September. Member governments will also be invited to endorse it and earmark resources for its implementation.

“We don’t want this declaration to just be a list of good intentions. We want it to include practical measures to improve the plight of coffee farmers, especially smallholders,” Sette says. “At the same time, we’re cognisant that this is a journey. The CEO forum is just one step, but a very important one.”

Ahead of the forum, the ICO will also preview its new flagship Coffee Development Report, which will receive a wide release on International Coffee Day, 1 October.

“One of the most important functions of the ICO is to help base the debate on facts, not emotions,” Sette says. “At current price levels, emotions run very high. If we’re to look at implementing lasting long-term solutions, we have to look at facts, and that is the intention of the Coffee Development Report – to go beyond these emotional issues and look at them on a factual basis.”

Sette says as a neutral body bringing together importing and exporting countries, the ICO is the natural platform to discuss how to address the coffee price crisis.

“The issues coffee faces go beyond the public and private sectors. There’s no private organisation that can bring together all the stakeholders we need onboard. At the same time, our traditional constituency is much more government-oriented. This is why we’re reaching out to the private sector and have had a very good response so far,” Sette says.

“It’s in everybody’s interest to hold this high-level dialogue.”

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