Agriculture / Coffee

Collaborating for Sustainable Coffee in Colombia

Rainforest Alliance President Tensie Whelan shares a travelogue of her journey to Colombia, where she met with coffee farmers and other partners to celebrate 10 years of collaboration.

We are high in the hills of Santander, a heavily forested coffee growing state in Colombia, where the leadership of Nespresso, Rainforest Alliance, Fundación Natura, and the Colombian Coffee Federation (comprised of more than 300,000 smallholder farmers) are gathering to celebrate 10 years of collaboration.

Las Baleadores coffee farm, Santander, Colombia

More than 40,000 farmers are enrolled in the program across the country, with many under Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality and Rainforest Alliance certification.  An independent study by CRECE found significant benefits to farmers who have earned AAA and Rainforest Alliance certification.  Coffee leaf infestation is better controlled, soil and water are better managed and net income is improved.  These farmers also have younger, more productive coffee trees and much higher quality coffee.

The head of the Colombian Coffee Federation, Luis Genero Muñoz, told journalists, “The best way to deal with the changes we see due to climate change is through the implementation of best practices such as those of the Rainforest Alliance and AAA.”

His thoughts are echoed by Leonardo Triana, the manager of Las Baleadores, the farm we are visiting. In addition to Muñoz, Jean-Marc Duvoisin (CEO of Nespresso), Elsa Matilde Escobar (Executive Director of Fundación Natura) and others also accompanied us on the trip.  The eight-hectare farm, which has been Rainforest Alliance Certified™ since 2004, includes a one-hectare forest reserve and 4.5 acres of coffee plants.  Flowers and birds abound.

Group photo

A shot of the group

“On this farm, we have everything,” Triana said. “Besides coffee, we have bees for honey and pollination, cattle–the organic material is key for our coffee production–and fruit trees that help us with the cash flow during the year. All of these elements are integrated into one production system.

“We need trees because the dry season is very prolonged in this region, and they help to regulate temperature and soil humidity. We manage the amount of shade according to the dry and rainy seasons. This system helps us to adapt, making us less susceptible to climate changes.”

Before Triana, his family, and the woman who owns the farm fed us giant fried ants and coffee, Triana said, “The person who seeds trees, seeds the future.”  He feeds his cows plantains because they have potassium, and the potassium in their manure goes into the compost for the coffee trees, saving him money.  It made us wonder how the giant ants fit in to his “integrated system”!

The success in Colombia has been due to the hard work of our partner, Fundación Natura; Rainforest Alliance field-level manager Michelle Deugd; our Chief of Sustainable Agriculture Chris Wille, who has shepherded the relationship with Nespresso from its inception; as well as many other talented staff members.

This initiative is heading into a new phase with additional partners and projects related to water, reforestation and famer pensions and insurance.  Fair Trade is a new partner in the collaboration. Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the FairTrade Labeling Organization, was on the trip with us, giving us time to exchange views and think of opportunities to collaborate.  On my way out, Muñoz invited me to come and speak to the Federation’ General Assembly in the fall. Talking to farmers is one of my favorite parts of the job—they have so much to share!

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