A coffee with a good aftertaste

Billy King and Malin Stålnacke.

”Having full traceability within our value chain is a key requirement for Malibu and Kahlua and we have been mapping the ingredients used in our products for several years. Doing so gives us the transparency we need and it enables us to assess any Environmental and Social risks in each of those value chains. For some ingredients, sugarcane, and coffee, for example, we realized the sheer number of farmers involved made it difficult to engage with each one in a meaningful way so we started to discuss other options to secure ingredients which are sourced and produced responsibly.” 

Billy King is Director, Technical and Sustainable Performance at Malibu and Kahlua and he is one of the architects behind the coffee project.   

“It was clear that the challenges faced by the farmers of each ingredient were not always the same and so, required different actions. For sugarcane, collaboration is key, and to play an active role within Bonsucro to seek transformational change in that sector. For coffee, we saw an opportunity to engage with farming communities directly and build our own project. All the coffee used in Kahlua is grown in Veracruz, Mexico so we were able to focus our efforts in that region”

Their idea was to identify coffee farming communities in need of support, that also had the capacity and willingness to develop in a sustainable way. Billy King and his colleagues wanted to find ways to address the basic social needs of the farmers and their families, protecting the heritage of these indigenous communities – and at the same time secure a sustainable supply of coffee for Kahlua. 

As a first step, they needed to find a local partner to work with, someone with deep knowledge of the region and with credibility in community development and sustainable agriculture. They found that in the Mexican NGO Fondo para La Paz. 

“We met with the NGO in Veracruz to see their work on the ground and were all totally blown away by what we saw. There was a real emotional connection between Fondo Para La Paz and the communities where they acted. It was clear they had established trust and were already having an impact.” 

The next step was to decide what outcomes they wanted from the project, ensuring the objectives addressed all three elements of Sustainable Development: social, economic and environmental. They met with various social and agroecological experts to understand the specific challenges faced by coffee farmers in Veracruz. Input received directly from the communities was also a key part of the process.

“Some families within the communities had immediate needs like access to clean water and sanitation that we acted on immediately. Our longer-term plans included actions to tackle poverty, empower women and support social cohesion. In the Environmental area, we wanted to focus on reforestation, improved soil nutrition and preservation of biodiversity.” 

Billy King says that the program has been up and running for some years now, the cooperation with Fondo para La Paz is working very well and progress can already be seen on many of the objectives. 

Malin Stålnacke is Marketing Manager at Kahlua and is now part of the project. She says that it was a conscious decision to start small and then expand the project step by step to include more communities and with that, more coffee.

“The main purpose of the program is to create a better, fairer and more sustainable livelihood through coffee and to do so by directly engaging with the local community. At the end of the day, we believe the only way to actually change things for the better is to have people be a part of the journey –believing in it and co-creating it. Our goal is to source all of our coffee from sustainable communities within 4 years” 

Achieving this ambitious goal would mean meeting an annual production requirement of around 300 tonnes but Malin Stålnacke is convinced that this is absolutely possible to achieve. They have already identified three more communities in the same Veracruz mountain region, all with the capability to produce high-quality coffee. All in all, they will work with close to 500 families. They recently visited the new communities and had meetings with the responsible council in each one, together with Fondo para LaPaz. 

“We needed to meet them to find out what needs they have, and what to focus on in the different villages. Not all communities will have the same needs. Fondo para La Paz uses a process known as ‘participatory planning’ where they work closely with the villagers to identify their needs and wishes.” 

One challenge almost all communities face is the lack of income opportunities for young men. Some leave their homes and families for months at a time to work in the sugarcane industry. Providing more jobs and income in the community could allow these young men to stay in the village with their families. 

Malin Stålnacke stresses the importance of including all three aspects of sustainable development in the work. 

“Our work with the farmers at the core of all our brands must focus on all three areas of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental. Only by developing initiatives around all three can we work towards sustainable community livelihoods and ensure a secure and sustainable future for our key ingredients and the people who provide them.“