Thursday, November 17, 2011

What is Sustainable Coffee?

There is a lot of talk about sustainable farming and sustainable products  nowadays. Specially in the coffee industry, increasingly people want to know if the coffee they are buying is "fair trade", "organic", "shade grown", or "bird friendly". Its quite amazing how these preferences have taken off and become "mainstream" in many places and regions of the world. And while all these "wants" by consumers are good, in that they have created a number of mechanisms in the form of certifications, to help validate these claims, there is still much more that needs to happen, so that those farmers producing coffee at the end of the day, can really benefit from these market trends.


Take this couple from Northern Peru, where some of the best coffee comes from, and a region slowly becoming a major player in the specialty coffee market. San Ignacio, Cajamarca. This simple picture reveals a number of positive aspects about their farm that may not be too apparent at simple eye view. Lets see.

1. Look at the soil. Its covered with leaves and organic material that falls from higher elevated tress around the coffee plants that are right in front and right behind them. Natural cycle of things helping in soil conservation and reduction of use of fertilizers.
2. The coffee plants right in front of them and right behind them, are small. Probably no more than three years. What does this mean? They are replanting. Important. But they are planted next to larger coffee plants, which makes for an excellent rotation strategy.
3. At the far end of the picture you can notice a banana tree. Awesome!! Coffee plants growing under the part shade of banana trees and other shade trees.
4. Some of the leafs on the ground are coffee tree leaves. Excellent!! This means they have been pruning. A much needed yet often forgotten practice that enhances the life and productivity of their coffee plants by as much as 30%.
5. Finally, a thought. The couple is getting older. And their kids? Will they farm this well kept coffee farm? Will certifications encourage their kids to stay in the farm? Or will access to water, health facilities and education be the determinant factor in the long term sustainability of this stellar coffee farm?

What can you do?

Start thinking where your coffee is from.