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Marubeni’s Sustainable Coffee Leaves No One Behind

A delicious cup of coffee with a wonderful aroma brings a bit of happiness into the lives of those who drink it. But if that coffee does not also bring some happiness to the lives of the people who grow and produce it, the art of drinking coffee and any business that supports coffee culture will eventually drain away.

Supporting the livelihoods of those involved in the coffee business has long been a priority at Marubeni, one of the top coffee traders in Japan. The company, which sources one third of the coffee beans imported into the country from around the world, has continuously invested copious energy into supporting farmers, starting well before popular awareness of the SDGs reached its current height. “Many of our coffee producers are located in developing countries, and most coffee growers are family farmers who run smallholdings of one hectare or less,” says Yoshito Ishihara, who has been engaged in the coffee business at Marubeni for about 20 years. “To ensure the sustainability of their farms, it is essential that we continue to support smallholders through our business.”

Based on many years of knowledge and experience, Marubeni has come to its own definition of “sustainable coffee.” Under this definition, coffee beans must be produced by smallholders who are receiving support for their endeavors or must be officially certified as sustainable by an international body in the field. Marubeni is aiming to having 50% of its coffee beans achieve at least one of these two criteria by March 2025.

Marubeni places a strong emphasis on providing support for smallholders, whose incomes are unstable as they are directly affected by the volatile international commodity market. It is very difficult for such growers to secure the money and labor they need to acquire an international sustainability certification. To establish a supply chain that is sustainable, it is extremely important that smallholders become capable of producing high-quality coffee and that they are compensated fairly. Of equal importance is enhancing their quality of life, which enables smallholders to devote more time and attention to improving their coffee-growing business in turn. Achieving all this would, in fact, constitute an embodiment of one of the six guiding principles of the SDGs: “Leave no one behind.”

Devoting time and energy to protecting and growing small farms

One fateful day several years ago, Marubeni was consulted by people from a farming cooperative in San Marcos, Guatemala. They said, “We want to make the day-care center on the farm a better place for education, so that the harvest workers can focus on their work with the peace of mind imparted by knowing that their children are being well taken care of.” Sponsored by Marubeni, which endorsed the co-op’s plan, the day-care center began to receive aid in 2021 in a variety of forms: educational supplies, teachers, and an educational curriculum. Similar efforts are now underway in Colombia. Marubeni also helped build a school in a village in Ethiopia in 2015, which is now providing learning opportunities for 1,400 children.

Marubeni has also consistently provided technical assistance to help smallholders produce high-quality coffee beans, donating farming tools and coffee plants that are resistant to pests and diseases, as well as offering farm-management seminars. “It is impossible for us alone to cover all the coffee farms around the world. We are working hand-in-hand with our local partners,” Ishihara says. In Asia, Marubeni has implemented thorough training and stringent quality control, including by hiring technicians well-versed in treating coffee cherries and stationing them locally. Ishihara adds, “Because our growers and partners can consistently produce high-quality coffee, we can sell their coffee to our customers in Japan with confidence.”

All involved in coffee—from producers to consumers—have a right to the happiness this delicious beverage can bring. This is what Marubeni’s sustainable coffee is all about.