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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

  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2022). Coffee_Voices: Listen through our lens (Instagram).
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2022). Coffee Voices: Utstilling på Wien Coffee Festival.
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2022). Burundi. Standart. ISSN 1602-2246. 26, p. 12–19.
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2022). Frokostmøte: klimakaffe.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2021). Looking into the Crystal Ball: What Does the Future Hold for the Cultural Environments.
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2021). Den skjøre freden i Burundi – naturkatastrofar og uro trugar eit av verdas fattigaste land. [Newspaper].
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). Transformative Change at a Global Scale: From Understanding to Action.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2020). It’s a Relationship Problem: Addressing Biodiversity Loss, Climate Change, Inequality, and Global Pandemics.
  • Boye, Ebba & Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2020). Myten om det naturlige markedet. In Hverven, Sigurd; Innset, Ola; Kristjánsson, Mímir & Dybedahl, Oscar (Ed.), Markedsmennesker: Kritikk av tidsånden. Dreyer Forlag A/S. ISSN 9788282655576.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). Kostnaden ved å gjøre ingenting: «200 millioner mennesker vil trenge nødhjelp årlig». [Business/trade/industry journal]. Bistandsaktuelt.
  • O'Brien, Karen (2019). How do we transform systems? .
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2019). BEFORE & NOW .
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2019). Telling Authentic Stories in Coffee with Photo-Voice.
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2018). Transformations in the Burundian Coffee Sector.
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2018). Kaffe, klima, mennesker.
  • Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite (2018). Building Bridges - Finding Common Ground for a Sustainable Future.
  • Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite (2017). Meet a Farmer: Dorothy, Gaharo Hill. [Internet]. Colleborative Coffee Source.
  • Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite (2017). Coffee Change.
  • Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite & Pileberg, Silje (2017). Kaffien er truga av klimaendringar. [Internet].
  • O'Brien, Karen & Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite (2017). Forskningstorget stand: Hva er viktig for deg? Kaffe, kakao og klima.
  • Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite (2017). Stories on a String.
  • Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite (2017). Hvordan er kaffen er truet av klimaendringene, og hva kan vi som forbrukere gjøre? [Radio]. NRK P1.
  • Rosenberg, Milda Nordbø (2017). Dårlig klima for kaffe. Mens verdens befolkning drikker stadig mer kaffe, trues kaffeplanten av klimaendringene. [Newspaper]. Klassekampen.
  • Nordbø, Milda Jonusaite (2017). The Dark Brew. [Business/trade/industry journal]. Tvergasten.

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