COVID19 to COVIR20: How Virtual Collaboration Can Revive the Lives of Smallholder Coffee Producers

By Sunghee Tark and Abhinav Khanal


The COVID-19 has put the entire world in a state of panic and distress. At the time of this writing, there were more than 350,000 cases and more than 15,000 deaths related to COVID-19 around the world. However, the grave impacts of COVID-19 are yet to come for the large portion of the population around the world as the resulting socioeconomic change continues to threaten the livelihood of many.

One group of people that are severely affected by this crisis are the small business owners - from our partnering small roasters to smallholder women producers.

Vermicompost Workshop
Community gathering

Closer to home, we were able to closely observe the impact that COVID-19 had on our partnering smallholder women coffee producers the past few weeks. Producers depend on their annual revenue from coffee sales to support their families. February and March are often months during which coffee producers send samples from their most recent harvest, and receive requests from buyers around the world. Based on market prices, producers often sign a contract ensuring them a stable income for the rest of the year. As coffee harvest only happens once annually in most places, producers depend on this revenue source to support their livelihoods for an entire year.

Due to the COVID-19, however, most producers are at a state of peril, as most coffee shops around the world are having to shut for weeks, if not months, and are unable to purchase their regular supply of coffee. It may sound like a #firstworldproblem to complain about the fact that people are not purchasing coffee, but it does have a direct impact on the lives of the producers whose entire livelihood depends on sales of coffee.

In addition, producers are unable to continue learning and adapting which also may have a direct impact on their future production. As climate change and its impact intensify, producers are facing new challenges with their crops. This year, for example, producers in our program faced significant delays in the drying process, and are having to adapt to new technologies to ensure that they can guarantee the quality of their coffee. Furthermore, we foresee that the next harvest will be moved up by weeks if not months, making the support provided now to prepare producers for the future harvest even more imperative.

Kendy Vega
Ana Lorena

When the COVID-19 hit the state of a pandemic, our team at Bean Voyage had two unique challenges: the income cannot stop, and neither can learning. We decided to turn these challenges into opportunities and launched COVIR-20. COVIR-20 (short for Colaboración Virtual) is an attempt to revive the lives of smallholder coffee producers by creating a virtual network among our producers. The virtual network can be used to show solidarity with each other and help find new buyers while allowing the producers to also continue learning and growing as a community. We use low-cost, high penetration technology such as Whatsapp to transform our five communities of smallholder women into virtual communities, where they can support one another.

On the learning front, Bean Voyage provides two hours of weekly lessons which is administered by our country team (go, Adriana and Fernanda). We use a variety of interactive materials such as infographics, voice notes, and videos to ensure that producers are staying up to date regarding key current issues, while continuing to learn about key issues for their coffee business - from post-harvest practices to farm finance.

We know this initiative will need to transform into a long-term plan as COVID-19 threatens to disrupt life for many months to come. In addition to running the COVIR-20 program, we are actively seeking partnerships with technology companies that can help us convert our entire curriculum into an e-learning platform, while allowing us to engage with buyers in a manner which builds trust and long-term relationships between the producers and buyers of coffee, allowing for greater stability during these difficult times.


Discover more about Bean Voyage including how you can support their work here.

Sunghee Tark is the Co-Founder & CEO of Bean Voyage. Her passion for the sustainability of coffee value chain stems from her desire to understand the intersectionality between income and gender inequality, and how coffee can become a vehicle for gender equality. Having grown up in places where she was always marginalized, her personal experience fuels her desire to tackle the intersectional issues around gender.

Abhinav Khanal is a OYW Ambassador and the Co-Founder & Executive Director of Bean Voyage. His passion for the sustainability of coffee value chain stems from his desire to discover market-based solutions to solve rural poverty and ways in which coffee can be a force for economic empowerment and sustainable development. Having grown up in places where agriculture is the main source of income for the majority of the population, he is alerted by the importance of the functioning agricultural sector for developing countries’ growth and its current state.


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