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U.S. Coffee Industry

Coffee Corps


The U.S. coffee industry has just established a volunteer Coffee Corps to provide expert assistance on quality improvement in origin countries in Arabica and Robusta producer nations world wide. Their mandate is to cover the entire coffee cycle, from seed to cup.

To that end, industry volunteers will share their expertise on coffee agronomy, harvesting, milling, and cupping, but will also provide instructional assistance in such business areas as transportation, marketing and communications. In addition to Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) resources, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing $500,000 dollars to support the program. USAID administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.

The Coffee Corps program has the full support of the National Coffee Association (NCA) and the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), with Robert Nelson and Ted Lingle serving as honorary co-chairmen. In addition, the two associations will each contribute a representative to serve on the Coffee Corps Advisory Committee that will review and evaluate all applications for assistance.

“NCA is a long-time supporter of policies that encourage producers to improve the quality of their product,” said Robert Nelson, the NCA president and c.e.o. “We consider Coffee Corps to be an ideal program. In fact, we think it will be an excellent catalyst in unifying the global coffee industry, allowing for more cooperative efforts to achieve greater results, and thus make a real difference in the lives of coffee growers around the world.”

“The idea behind Coffee Corps is to make the program an industry-wide effort by engaging all sectors,” commented SCAA executive director Ted Lingle. “Drawing on the participation of individual coffee companies and key personnel.” A pilot SCAA program in 1996 showed the way when it sent industry volunteers from the U.S. to help improve coffee drying operations in Indonesia.

Coffee Corps is now looking for volunteers among active and retired coffee professionals to carry out these assignments, and NCA, SCAA and CQI will be contacting the industry to enlist their support, financially and professionally. “Most assignments will last two weeks, but we will be flexible in designing shorter or longer assignments in order to properly fulfill the mission,” said CQI executive director Margaret Swallow. Coffee Corps will also consider multi-stage projects, where a variety of experts will complete a different aspect of the program in the same country at different periods.

All those interested in volunteering can apply on-line at www.coffeecorps.org. Similarly, any cooperative or country wishing to submit a request for Coffee Corps volunteers can do so through their web site - or through their cooperative, national coffee association, or a local development organization working on coffee projects.

Working in tandem with CQI is ACDI/VOCA, a Washington-based non-governmental organization with decades of experience managing USAID-funded agricultural development projects in over 100 countries. ACDI/VOCA will initially screen applications from origin countries for clarity and completeness, and will match each request against the Coffee Corps database of volunteers who have the requisite skills to execute the assignment.

Completed applications for assistance will be reviewed by a five-person Coffee Corps Advisory Committee, headed by Margaret Swallow along with two at-large representatives from the private sector and two representatives from NCA and SCAA. “Another part of the Committee’s oversight responsibility includes traveling to origin countries participating in the program to provide quality control and feedback, particularly concerning the effectiveness of Coffee Corps’ assistance,” adds Swallow.

Coffee Corps will be seeking additional partners from the private and non-profit sectors, both in the U.S. and Europe, so that it can incorporate all 50 coffee producer nations in its purview. To provide added value to origin countries, it is considering an expansion of the Coffee Corps business mission to include socio-economic assistance, such as helping set up health clinics and schools.

“Receiving this initial funding from USAID will help Coffee Corps get off to a fast start, but we will need additional support to ensure that Coffee Corps assistance is available to respond to all of the needs that exist at origin,” notes Swallow.

Gary Goldstein has worked as a communications professional for 20 years in the private, public, and non-profit sectors - most recently, as director of public relations and communications for the National Coffee Association of USA. He currently is an instructor at Columbia University in its Strategic Communications program. He can be reached at gbgoldstein@earthlink.net.

The pictures accompanying this article are illustrative of the assistance that Coffee Corps volunteers could provide at origin. Since this is a new program, there are no pictures depicting Coffee Corps projects in progress, but they will be posted on the www.coffeecorps.org web site as they become available.

Tea & Coffee - February/March, 2003


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