Good Lab interview:Giles Robinson on sustainable coffee

Have you ever thought about where the coffee you drink everyday comes from? Are you familiar with what kind of life coffee bean farmers are living? Do you know that there is a connection between coffee consumption and climate change?

For Giles Robinson, all these things are connected.

We did an interview with Giles earlier this month. You will be able to learn all the intricacies of such complex systems from the interview.

(all photos from Giles)

coffee stories that you might never have heard of

GL: Can you tell us a bit about yourself first?

Giles: I am a fulltime software engineer, and on weekends i work on a sustainable coffee project.

GL: What is sustainable coffee?

Giles: The focus of sustainable coffee is protecting the environment from the impact of the supply chain and getting economic benefits & social equity for those in the supply chain especially the producers. The coffee should be organic, shade grown ( to protect ecosystems ) and fairly traded.

You can only grow coffee in subtropical climate between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Many of the countries in that region are developing countries. In the past 300+ years many of those countries became colonies of western powers, and coffee growing was and still is an important source of income. Unfortunately the farmers get a very bad deal thanks to this legacy.

calling for a renaissance of the coffee culture

GL:I didn’t know there is such stories in the coffee we drink. but how come we didn’t know more about this?

Giles: Through the colonization process coffee became the most popular drink of the people. Back then, most people drank wine or beer. But as coffee became available in Europe and in the America, people gathered in coffee houses to discuss politics, culture and other topics of interest over coffee. It was even seen as a subversive drink during the revolutionary times in some countries and there were attempts to ban it.

But very sadly, this culture is seldom found in today’s coffee houses. People today just see it as a drink, very few people would bother to engage in good conversations over coffee.

It is all connected

Giles: Many coffee farmers hope they could get rid of poverty by growing coffee, but it would be a difficult goal to reach under the international trade system today. Most of the revenue was in the hands of traders and coffee shops, while coffee farmers get just a meagre amount of the total sum (less than 10%). When you are food insecure because you get so little for your coffee you may cut down more forest – deforestation due to coffee growing is a big problem. There may be farmers who switch to growing other cash crops such as cocaine plants as coffee cannot give them a good living. This would create problems in an area where there are no social services. So you can see that economics, environmental and social factors are interdependent. And this makes for a complex situation.

GL: Have you got any plan to change people’s perception on these issues?

Giles: It is difficult to change people’s mind, but we are trying. A few of us started the Hong Kong Sustainable Coffee Forum to engage stakeholders, including passionate coffee drinkers who care about the backstory of coffee. We are thinking of doing a small cafe, and doing it in the most environmentally friendly way possible, so as to inspire people to see for themselves that they can good quality coffee and take care of the environment at the same time. We are also thinking about a Participatory Guarantee System for coffee as a way of crowdsourcing coffee purchases. Will update you more as we make progress on that. I am always happy to make you and coffee and have a chat 🙂

你有沒有想過,你每天都喝的咖啡是從那裏來的?你有沒有想過,種植咖啡豆的農夫過的是怎樣一種生活?你有想過種植咖啡跟氣候變暖之間的聯繫嗎?

在Good Lab會員Giles Robinson看來,這些都是聯繫在一起的。

我們最近與Giles進行了一次對談,以下是對談的記錄,希望大家喜歡。

你未曾聽講過的咖啡故事

GL:可以先簡單的介紹一下你自己嗎?

Giles:我白天是一位軟件工程師,而在晚上和週末我主要是做一些跟可持續咖啡有關的項目。

GL:什麼是可持續咖啡?

Giles:可持續咖啡關注的是整個咖啡生產和消費的供應鏈,重點在於降低這樣的一個過程對於環境的影響,以及爲咖啡豆種植者爭取更大的經濟補償和社會公義。按照這樣的理念生產出來的咖啡應當是有機的、有遮蔭生產的(shade grown),以及基於公平貿易的原則來銷售的。

咖啡豆只能在南北回歸線之間的亞熱帶地區種植。而正好很多在這一地區的國家都是發展中國家。過去300多年裏,很多這些國家成爲了西方的殖民地。對於這些國家而言,咖啡貿易是很重要的經濟收入來源。但非常遺憾,農民在這樣的貿易體系下只能得到非常低的收入。

咖啡文化的回歸

GL:真沒有想到原來咖啡有這麼有趣的故事,但爲什麼我喝咖啡的時候完全沒有注意到呢?

Giles:隨着殖民化的進程,咖啡成爲了世界很多地方的人們最喜歡的飲料。幾百年前,人們的飲料主要是酒。但隨着咖啡在歐洲以及美洲出現,人們就開始聚到咖啡屋去討論政治、文化以及其他他們感興趣的東西。在某些國家的革命年代,咖啡還被視爲是一種反動的飲料,那時候的政府還曾經試過去禁止人們喝咖啡。

我們都處在彼此關聯的網裏

Giles:很多咖啡豆農戶希望他們可以通過種植咖啡豆來擺脫貧窮,但是在現今的國際貿易體系之下,這是一個難以實現的目標。因爲大多數的利潤都是掌握在中間商以及咖啡店那裏,但是種植咖啡豆的農戶則只能得到很小的利潤(賣100元的咖啡,咖啡農只能獲得少於10元的利潤)。而假如你是一位種植咖啡豆的農夫,你可能會因爲不夠東西吃而砍伐森林,而因爲種植咖啡而引致的熱帶雨林砍伐問題是非常嚴重的問題。也有一些農戶轉而種植其他的經濟作物,例如可卡因,因爲種咖啡豆實現是無利可圖。這就會帶來更大的社會問題。可以說,經濟、環境以及社會因素是彼此關聯的。這是一種相當複雜的現狀。

GL:有沒有想過改變人們關於這些問題的看法?

Giles:要改變人的看法是非常困難的,但是我們正在嘗試。我和一些朋友創辦了「香港可持續咖啡論壇」,希望藉此平臺來凝聚各個利益相關方,包括那些非常喜歡咖啡同時也對咖啡背後的故事感興趣的朋友。另外我們也在考慮創辦一個小小的咖啡屋,並且希望可以以一種對環境友好的方式來做——我們希望讓人們看到,我們可以在得到好的咖啡的同時,也能兼顧環境。我們還在考慮一種深度參與的辦法,讓咖啡愛好者可以通過集體購買的方式來支持咖啡農。假如我們有更多信息,會向大家報告。歡迎大家與我聯繫,我非常樂意請你喝一杯咖啡,而後我們開始一段對話 🙂

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