The future of coffee is in jeopardy.

On the surface, the future is bright: coffee consumption is increasing at 2% annually, and millennials’ interest in premium ingredients and ethical sourcing bode well for speciality coffee specifically. Yet, smallholder coffee farmers face ever-greater challenges, which is driving the next generation of farmers away from the crop. Climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are exacerbating this trend, forcing farmers to adjust practices that have been developed over generations without support or infrastructure.

These problems stem from a disparity in farmer capacity. While sophisticated large farmers and professional coffee estates use the latest techniques and agronomic technology to increase their yields year over year, 70% of farmers worldwide still yield only about four bags per hectare, which is 17% of the rate of the most productive farmers. That 70% isn’t the group that most sustainability programs serve, though – although it has the biggest upward potential.

Most support programs work with farmers who are already organized into cooperatives or part of established supply chains, because they can efficiently and immediately deliver “sustainable coffee” to the market. Protecting the future of coffee, however, means working with that 70% at the bottom of the pyramid, the farmers that are difficult to reach but have enormous potential. It means putting farmers first, and recognizing that without them, the crop we rely on would cease to exist.

The approach and strategy of Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung focuses on empowering farmers at the “bottom of the pyramid” that others ignore, teaching them to become better farmers and informed entrepreneurs who can participate in the market place. When farmers have the knowledge and skills to lift themselves out of poverty and move up in the pyramid, everybody, from farmers, to coffee-growing communities, to industry, to customers, wins.

Coffee Kids is a program of Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung North America.