Annette Pensel



The Connector

Executive Director of the Global Coffee Platform

A cup of coffee is so much more than just a simple beverage. Each drop encapsulates a complex supply chain of farmers, traders, roasters and retailers, spanning mostly family-run smallholder farms in the tropical coffee belt, to an international network of shippers and sellers, ultimately landing daily in the cups of billions of people around the world. Coffee not only connects people, but importantly, coffee is a livelihood for millions of farmers and workers around the world.

Working to ensure that this coffee is environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable is Annette Pensel, the Executive Director of the Global Coffee Platform (GCP). The platform is a unique multi-stakeholder membership association of companies and organizations from across the coffee value chain united under a common vision to work collectively towards a thriving, sustainable coffee sector for generations to come.

There are serious threats to the global coffee supply chain among them climate change, inadequate farming practices leading to biodiversity loss and human rights violations, and an income gap affecting more than 40% of smallholder farmers who live below the poverty level – a gap the platform is addressing through the GCP’s 2030 Goal of transformational change on farmers’ prosperity for more than one million farmers in more than 10 countries.

“GCP Members recognize that coffee sustainability is a shared responsibility and if we’re going to have transformational impact at scale, we need to work collectively and pre-competitively to address the systemic issues that hinder progress,” said Pensel. In this way, “coffee is more than a beloved beverage, but a positive engine for economic and social development and the conservation of nature, and can even be a ‘natural climate solution,’” she wrote last year.

With close to 20 years of experience in the sustainability and coffee sectors, Pensel works on multistakeholder partnerships and innovative approaches to address these issues toward transformational change. She helped set up 4C’s verification system, which became the largest in the coffee sector, facilitated the growth of innovative public-private coffee sustainability platforms in coffee-producing countries, and enabled the creation of the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code, a common language on the foundations of coffee sustainability that is used by public, private and third sectors to align sustainability strategies and tools.

Having lived and worked in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe, Pensel has established relationships among a broad range of key stakeholders needed for change at scale – from farmer organizations, trade, and industry to governments, NGOs and the international development community.

As a teenager, Pensel grew up in Germany close to the iron curtain that separated families and peoples and witnessed the power of peaceful change that led to the end of the Cold War and the reunification of her home country. “Many systems and structures are made by people and can be changed, but we must respect our planetary boundaries. I want to be part of a generation that inspires and enacts the paradigm shift towards transformational change: a good life for all people – men, women, and children – in harmony with nature. After all, as humans, we are all connected. And we have only one planet.”

Today she is focused on leading the Global Coffee Platform to rally members and partners, aligning agendas at local and global levels and advancing solutions, from driving transparency and demand of sustainable coffee purchases towards sustainable sourcing to developing an actionable industry framework on farmer incomes and coffee sustainability through collective action in coffee producing countries.

“Business as usual is no option,” said Pensel. “Let’s step up and work together to make the difference!”

This article is focused on value chains in support of the work of the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program (FOLUR), with funding from the Global Environment Facility.

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