‘India should head International Coffee Organisation’

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : India has been elected chair of the International Coffee Organisation’s (ICO) executive board – a step that a senior African diplomat hoped would take it to the top of the London-based body.

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The election to the post Friday evening means India will be responsible for running the day-to-day affairs of the body – an intergovernmental organisation representing 77 exporting and importing countries – as it moves toward an important new phase.

India’s election comes at a crucial moment in the ICO’s history as it transits to a new International Coffee Agreement, which was formally adopted by members this week.

The agreement – the sixth in the body’s history – will pave the way for new activities, including funding mechanisms, aimed at protecting the livelihoods of the 25 million poor peasant farmers who produce 70 percent of the world’s coffee.

India’s election could help transform the world of coffee, the second largest traded commodity after oil.

The election was welcomed by Josefa Leonel Correia, the Angolan diplomat representing the African continent at the ICO, who said Africa will support a bid by India to lead the organization at the next election due in 2012.

“I very much hope that India will lead this organization in 2012. Leadership should be on a rotational basis. Africa will support India’s candidature,” Correia, secretary-general of the Inter African Coffee Organisation (IACO), told IANS.

The ICO is often seen as a talking club that has been dominated by Latin American countries since its inception in 1962 and Correia’s comments signalled the start of a move that could break the mould.

Indian diplomats say that as with a number of other commodities, the direction of the global trade in coffee is shifting toward Asia – and with India’s emergence as an economic power, it is seen to be a strong contender for leadership of the ICO.

India is the sixth largest producer of coffee and has a rapidly growing
coffee-consuming middle class poised to rival the US and Europe for size.

At the same time, its coffee growers are mostly small farmers – not unlike those who produce the bulk of the commodity in Africa’s 23 coffee-growing nations.

“India is now a global player, and coffee is a growing industry. The coffee industry has to be re-invested in India,” ICO executive director Nestor Osorio, a Colombian, told IANS.

“It is a sophisticated industry with two million extra bags added to the global production every year. It has a growth rate of two percent – that shows there is dynamism in coffee,” Osorio added.

India at the ICO Executive Board will be represented by Coffee Board
chairman G.V. Krishna Rau.