Interview with Giles Robinson on sustainable coffee

Interview with 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 🙂