Starbucks has purchased its first coffee farm on 600 acres of land in Costa Rica. Besides harvesting their own beans, the company claims it will convert the farm to a global agronomy research and development center, and research the leaf rust that is devastating Central American crops.
Starbucks also recently purchased tea, juice and bakery companies, and is planning to double the number of people signed up for its loyalty programs.
Starbucks tea chain Teavana (in December 2012 Starbucks acquired Teavana for $620-million) will eventually have 1,000 stores nationwide from 300 locations now. And La Boulange, a bakery business Starbucks bought last year, is projected to have products in 2,500 stores this year, up from the 400 San Francisco-area cafes.
The Lost Angeles Times notes Starbucks also expects Evolution Fresh, the juice brand it took over in 2011, to double its presence to 8,000 locations by the end of the year.
“Over the next five years, Starbucks plans to open some 3,000 new stores in the Americas, with more than half of them in the U.S. By 2014, China will become the second-largest market for Starbucks behind the U.S.”
In Costa Rica, Starbucks intends to research the roya fungus, also known as leaf rust, which kills coffee leaves by sapping them of nutrients and lowering bean yields.
Reuters notes the roya fungus plague has reached altitudes above 3,400 feet for the first time in Central America and Peru, and the fungus has also reached Mexico. Central America and Mexico account for more than one-fifth of global output of arabica beans.
Coffee trees growing at such high altitudes had never before been exposed to the disease, which is spread by the wind, and farmers were unprepared for the widespread damage that has occurred.
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla has proposed a $40 million fund to help up to 40,000 farmers who have been affected by the outbreak.
According to Reuters, the International Coffee Organization estimates 2.5 million 60-kg bags of crop could be lost in the 2012/13 global coffee output due to the disease, with losses possibly rising to around 4 million bags in 2013/14 — that would equate to between 18 percent and almost 30 percent of Central America’s crop in 2011/12.
Starbucks claims their arabica coffee farm, which currently employs about 70 workers, will continue to harvest beans to be roasted and sold by the company, and will help coffee farmers mitigate climate change and support long-term crop stability.
Starbucks plans to source 100 percent of its coffee ethically — a process that uses “responsible purchasing practices, farmer loans and forest conservation programs” — by 2015. The investment is an extension of Starbucks’ $70 million ethical sourcing program.
Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz said Starbucks will also look at innovating with proprietary coffee varietals that could lead to the development of future blends.
But as Take Part’s Jason Best asks, could Starbucks’s new coffee farm make a real difference in global coffee labor practices?
Ric Rhinehart, the executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, tells TakePart, “In as much as a farmer faces different challenges and opportunities than a buyer, Starbucks’s experience with this farm will be impactful.”
Particularly, he says, “if they collaborate with broadbased research and coffee entities. He’s optimistic in this case that they will, though he admits, “they tend to want to go it alone.”
There’s ample reason for skepticism of Starbucks’ so-called ethical coffee, such as the recent Oxfam campaign to “spotlight the social and environmental abuses of the world’s largest food companies, whose farm workers are still going hungry as they struggle to grow the cocoa, tea, sugar, corn and soy beans that Kellogg’s, General Mills, et al. turn into Pop-Tarts and Doritos.”