As one of the world’s most traded agricultural commodities, coffee constitutes a significant part of the overall economy and a major source of foreign revenue for many developing countries. Coffee also touches a large portion of the world’s population in the South, where it is mainly produced, and in the North, where it is primarily consumed. As a product frequently purchased by a significant share of worldwide consumers on a daily basis in social occasions, the coffee industry has earned a high profile that also attracts the interest of non-governmental organizations, governments, multilateral organizations and development specialists and has been an early adopter of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS). Responding to the trend of increased interest on sustainability, it is therefore not surprising that coffee continues to be at the forefront of sustainability initiatives that transcend into other agricultural industries. Based on literature and authors’ experiences, this article reflects on the VSS evolution and considers a sustainability model that specifically incorporates producers’ local realities and deals with the complex scenario of sustainability challenges in producing regions. Agreeing on a joint sustainability approach with farmers’ effective involvement is necessary so that the industry as a whole (up and downstream value chain actors) can legitimately communicate its own sustainability priorities. This top-down/bottom-up approach could also lead to origin-based, actionable and focused sustainability key performance indicators, relevant for producers and consistent with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The initiative also aims to provide a sustainability platform for single origin coffees and Geographical Indications (GIs) in accordance with growers’ own realities and regions, providing the credibility that consumers now expect from sustainability initiatives, additional differentiation options for origin coffees and economic upgrade opportunities for farmers.
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