John Steel of Café Direct reflects on Lima Summit

By John Steele, CEO of Café Direct

There’s a first time for everything. The WFTO Summit in Lima 2019 was a first for me. It certainly helped me reflect on where we find business, society and the planet in 2019. The summit had an incredible richness, derived from the diversity of the 325 delegates – people from all over the world, from business, charity, all industries, and producers too. This is a huge contrast to grandiose, old-style capitalist conferences with their lack of diversity, compassion or belief that there is more to business than maximising profits.

Secondly, the openness, trust, and genuine collaboration were unparalleled – everyone wrestling with how to do better and happily sharing thoughts, examples and all in an inclusive spirit. Effectively this was a very modern, forward-looking summit with a real desire to make a difference.

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Three fascinating examples of the excellence that I witnessed in Lima were about adding value to smallholder farmers' lives, going back to basics in sustainable coffee and Fairtrade and organic combining to have genuine, lasting impact.

What struck me about the discussion on adding value was one enterprise practicing the ideal of not buying raw materials from smallholder farmers, only finished goods. This made a substantial difference to the amount of value held at the farmer level, rather than dissipating value to large commercial enterprises. In sustainable coffee, the discussion on conversations regarding yields and quality versus the need to pay a basic “living income” price was impassioned and extremely interesting. How can a large, powerful business insist on farmers increasing quality as the route to increased payments when current pricing is well below the cost of living!


Finally, I witnessed a really lively debate about Fairtrade versus Organic and Fairtrade combined with Organic. It reminds me that entrenched positions will not change the status quo and that social and environmental change are so intertwined that we need them to work seamlessly together. 

In the end, my lasting impression of the WFTO summit was of an energetic, intelligent community determined to make a difference for all.