I recently interviewed Vera Espíndola Rafael about her leading involvement in the Sustainable Coffee Buying Guide, a grassroots tool designed to appeal to the conscience of sustainability-minded roasters.
Yet the drive is just one of many ways over the past decade that Espíndola Rafael, a Mexico-based development economist, has promoted the place of coffee growers and producers in the coffee value chain.
He serves as a consultant to Mexico’s Department of Agriculture on specific coffee-related businesses, including work to identify thriving live incomes and production costs. Since 2019, Espíndola Rafael has served on the board of directors of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).
Espíndola Rafael also currently leads the strategic initiatives of the Colombia-based Azahar Coffee Company, specifically the research and implementation of the Sustainable Coffee Buying Guide.
He worked at the Guatemalan ANACAFE Research Branch and later as the Latin America Regional Manager at UTZ prior to the Rainforest Alliance merger.
Espíndola Rafael also has a consulting agency KUANU, which in Mixteco translates to “grow”, focused on strategies for different players in the sector to improve the resilience of coffee farmers.
She is also the author of the Specialty Coffee Association’s report “A Business Case for Increasing Consumption of Specialty Coffee in Producing Countries” (in English and Spanish) and co-author of a 2020 landmark report on the Mesoamerican coffee market published by the Inter-American Institute of Cooperation for Agriculture (IICA).
To learn more beyond these bonafides, I recently chatted with Espíndola Rafael, asking her these three questions…
DCN: What inspires you most about coffee?
Vera Espindola Rafael: What inspires me the most about the cafe are the people who work there. What drives me is to think of those (people) I’ve met in my travels. I have enormous respect for producers.
There is always a message that I try to drive home in what I do in my day job. That part of the supply chain is what inspires me to sit behind these Excel spreadsheets.
What is the thing that worries you the most about coffee?
What worries me the most is that we often act like we don’t know.
There is a decision point when buying coffee where the buyer is in a much better position than the producer. People have traveled to the producing countries so many times; they have seen the reality of these rural areas… Data is being published on these realities and there is enough data out there. We know it, yet we decide not to act.
I’m talking about paying an adequate price to the producers. Some might say, “hey, that’s not how market C works.” I say “forget market C”. We think differently, we change the way we see and evaluate coffee.
We know. And we must act.
What would you do if it weren’t for coffee?
Maiz. My mother has a small farm here in Mexico. There is something for me.
I definitely would not leave farming. I love puzzles and there are so many unconnected pieces within farming.
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Lindsey Mesta is a specialty coffee professional who has over a decade of origin experience and is motivated by efforts to improve equity throughout the supply chain.