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Role of Global Value Chains in Transitions to Sustainability

The project analyzes how coffee production in East Africa, known to cause environmental degradation and maintain rural poverty, can become more sustainable under increasingly challenging conditions.

Roasted coffee bean

Photo: ©

About the project

GVC-transitions explores how the private sector can contribute to a shift towards a sustainable society. The project analyzes how coffee production in East Africa characterized by ever-increasing environmental challenges can manage the transition.

For example, it is expected that the demand for coffee will double, while the area suitable for coffee production will be halved by 2050. How can the coffee industry produce twice as much coffee in half as much area while it is known to cause environmental degradation and persistent poverty?

Based on two ethnographic field studies from coffee production in Burundi and Ethiopia, this project explores how complex socio-ecological processes evolve in the face of environmental and economic change. We find that this challenge cannot be solved with only technology, but that we must focus on the human aspect of the value chain.

We find the human values ​​of the players in coffee production to be a possible explanatory factor for why we resist or are willing to make drastic changes in order to adapt, as well as participate in the green transition. The project is now in a deeper analysis phase, and will soon share exciting findings.


The primary objective of GVC-Transitions is to understand the role of global value chains in a societal transition towards sustainability, with an emphasis on their potential to contribute to adaptation in land management among small-scale farmers to environmental and economic change.

The secondary objectives are:

  • To identify social and ecological impacts of speciality coffee production in land areas under pressure in East Africa.
  •  To provide solution oriented recommendations to stakeholders from the coffee industry on how coffee production in East Africa can be more sustainable and climate resilient.
  • To contribute to theory on more integrated understandings of environmental change as an inherent part of socio-ecological production processes.
  • To develop capacity of young scholars through PhD stipends, and to further enhance North-South partnerships.


The research is carried out as an academic North-South partnership between the University of Oslo, and Dept. of Geography and Enivornmental Studies, Addis Ababa University. GVC-Transitions is built upon co-production of knowledge with relevant stakeholders such as coffee farmers, the private and public sector. These user groups will be included in the research throughout the project cycle and will benefit from dissemination activities.

Funding scheme

The total grant award was for NOK 5 200 000.

Project period

2016 - 2022



View all works in Cristin

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View all works in Cristin

Tags: Economic geography, Environmental studies, Political ecology, Development
Published Sep. 15, 2016 1:56 PM - Last modified Mar. 3, 2022 10:29 AM