Lavazza is the most recognised brand of coffee across the world (the company sells 62% of its production in Italy), with sales of over €1.1 billion in 2008 and sales growth of 8% over the last five years. With success like this behind the company and the future looking decidedly bright it is no wonder that they have turned their attentions to a sustainability project. This is the Tierra Project, which has been running in three previously disadvantaged coffee growing communities in three different South American countries – Honduras, Colombia and Peru. The initiative began in 2002, and has, in the last seven years, seen three communities produce premium quality Tierra coffee (purchased and marketed by Lavazza) and more importantly improve their environmental, economic and social wellbeing.
When the initiative began Lavazza in conjunction with VOLCAFE (leading green coffee trader) provided technical expertise, equipment and assistance, as well as training to make the three plantations sustainable and potentially profitable. The enhancements were geared toward improving standards and working practices and by 2005 Rainforest Alliance certification was achieved by compliance with their nine key principles. The project also saw the construction of a green coffee drying and processing plant and the development of schools, housing and health clinics (Honduras also benefited from two micro-credit banks) – living standards were improved immeasurably. Mario Cerruti is Lavazza’s supply chain director and the project’s manager and he commented about the project, “Lavazza has shared with the farmers the coffee-processing expertise acquired during its hundred-year history… Tierra is not a one-off, fixed-term project; in view of its success, the enthusiastic response it has received and the fact that it is continuously evolving, Lavazza is now looking at future measures.”
Tierra is a directly managed project where progress is monitored and changes made as required with new objectives being set every year (new schools and a test farm are among the latest projects). The project has two overall aims in that it provides guidance in coffee production and also improves the living conditions of the growers. According to Mario Cerruti, “Ultimately, Tierra is about bridging the gap between producers and consumers of food and drink, because the future lies in returning to traditional high standards of quality, taking a long-term view and making sustainable development a reality… Tierra has no presumption of becoming a new sustainable development model, but it is undoubtedly an important experiment. Our goal is to cooperate with the local communities to give them the know-how and technical assistance necessary to improve the product’s quality. This means that small producers can become competitive, marketing their coffee for what it is effectively worth.”
Some of the improvements have included new technology to improve quality and the levels of production. For example the Peruvian farms have introduced a new coffee bean processing system which uses solar powered driers – this means that in these remote areas there is no need for fuel and the environment is protected. In addition, farmers have also adopted a new coffee plant pruning process to encourage higher yields and improved quality. Lavazza have underlined a model that should be encouraged in other commodity production being undertaken in similar disadvantaged areas of the world.