Every day millions of people around the world start the day with a cup of coffee. But Rozenn Kerviel, Sustainability Manager for Coffee at Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), is not one of them.
“The challenge of the job keeps me awake,” the native Breton smiles, hinting at the relentless pace of her mission to achieve a totally transparent and sustainable supply chain for LDC’s coffee business.
As coffee consumption grows around the globe, including in producer countries, the task seems to expand every day too.
The task at hand is colossal. Extreme weather patterns, increasingly persistent pests and diseases as well as difficulties arising from poor technical knowledge, are all major hurdles requiring long-term effort and a strategic vision that stretch beyond immediate profit.
“How do we make sure we can enjoy good quality coffee in 30 years? That’s the mission,” she says. “Our goal is to assure the survival and continued profitability of coffee farming.”
Being out there
After studies in Paris, Grenoble, and Berlin, Rozenn joined a multinational food and beverage company in Paris, where she became aware of the need to make sustainability an integral part of the business, especially in procurement.
“Historically sustainability was part of marketing or CSR (corporate social responsibility), but what is really needed is to have it embedded in all aspects of a business.”
Her experience gained at a big food company was very valuable, but Rozenn felt that to take on sustainability issues, she had to familiarize herself with the whole supply chain: be in the field, work with farmers and get to know their reality.
She decided to base herself in Central America, working first with a Mexican cooperative of 800 coffee farmers. She then went to Guatemala, working for one of the country’s biggest cooperatives, exporting cardamom and spices. She helped them to collaborate on coffee and cocoa too, supporting their marketing activities, and representing them at trade fairs.
“The experience of working with farmers clarified my thinking,” she says. “I learned about their problems but also understood much better that to make a difference in their lives, the private sector’s role in sustainability efforts had to grow substantially.”
Being part of the solution
And global merchants would be a good place to make that case.
“They could play a major role in solving the problem,” she comments.
Rozenn joined LDC as Coffee Sustainability Manager in 2013, building the function with an initial focus on the world’s five largest coffee producers: Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.
Now based in Geneva, Rozenn manages a diverse and truly global team of sustainability specialists, managers, agronomists and more. She also looks after a steadily growing portfolio of sustainability projects designed to improve farmers’ livelihoods through technical training, teaching smart agriculture practices, and climate change adaptation measures.
“One of my most important documents is a list of more than 20,000 farmers we work with,” she smiles, explaining that her mission can only succeed if the farmers also benefit. Most of them are smallholders working in some of the world’s remotest regions.
“Sustainability has enormous brand value,” she says. “But that’s not the most important element.”
“If coffee farmers cannot make enough money to support their families, they will move to other sectors and we will lose our coffee. We need coffee production to be sustainable in the long-term, even if the profit is sometimes a short-term decision.”
Does she ever wonder if her skills and her case would be better understood in an NGO or other non-profit setting?
“Maybe,” she answers. “But here (at LDC) is where I feel I can make a difference and I strongly believe that all the actors including NGOs, rosters, banks, farmers, and merchants have to work together to see change.”
“We (the merchants) have a key role in the agricultural value chain and we can leverage this to power sustainable business.“