This article is written by Alexandra Katona-Carrol and appears in the April issue of Chronicle, the SCAA’s monthly magazine.
This year, the SCAA’s Sustainability Council is proud to showcase the 2012 Sustainability Award project winner, Responding to Climate Change: Building Community-Based Reliance. The project focuses on sustaining the production of high quality coffee in the face of climate change. It pilots a set of proactive interventions that faces the reality that some degree of climate change is inevitable, disruption of supply is likely, decreases in quality are expected and on-the-ground defenses need to be built to protect specialty coffee production.
The project is unique in that it was developed in a collaborative effort between Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a U.S.-based roaster, and the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, a long-time supplier, with the specific goal of ensuring the future viability of this successful trading relationship. The project is funded by PROGRESO, a Dutch NGO, and administered by Rwandan Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a Rwandan NGO. The collective goal is to establish a pilot project that would allow for refinement of methodology, metrics and funding strategies, which will then be replicated throughout our supply chain, and beyond.
The introduction of practices that increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of the 1,818 farms of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative are a central goal. Specifically, the actions of the project create targeted defenses against projected increases in temperature, pests, irregularity in rain and drought, shortened ripening and quality loss, and the resulting loss of specialty coffee. As such, the project deploys a set of widely recognized best practices around shade intercropping, erosion control, and watershed conservation, in response to site-specific climate change risk assessments, thereby creating targeted defenses against these new threats to production.
The project’s strategy revolves around the goal of enhancing resilience: the ability of an ecosystem to withstand extremes in weather without diminishing its productive capacity. To develop this resilience, the project targets a set of interventions designed to protect topsoil by preventing erosion, decrease farm temperature by developing shade canopy, increase soil fertility by introducing nutrient-fixing trees and leaf litter, and reduce the risk of drought by increasing aquifer absorption. Broadly put, it seeks to increase the value of ecosystem services by increasing the quantity, quality, diversity, and distribution of beneficial components of the ecosystem.
To date, the project has achieved a return of one tree for every 13 cents ($23,220 / 175,542 trees). This is a high return on investment in reforestation projects and is made possible by the demand-driven methodology of the project. This return is also exceptionally secure: many reforestation efforts are successful at planting trees, but because they have been subsidized, most trees end up as firewood or fences long before they begin to offer ecosystem services. Because of the project’s focus on education, tree planting and ecological restoration in this project is driven by farmer demand for the long-term services provided by trees. The project was developed in response to concerns from the Cooperative’s members around the impact of climate change. Similar concerns are shared by farmers around the world and can serve as the starting point for replication of this project, in particular, its methodology.
Thanksgiving Coffee Company is also in the process of developing a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, The Resilience Fund, to finance similar projects throughout our supply chain. The recognition garnered by this award will strengthen the fundraising efforts of the new organization and create up to eleven additional climate change adaptation projects throughout our supply chain. Though this project will focus directly on Thanksgiving Coffee’s supply chain, the goal is to help articulate strategies that can be employed by other companies in their own supply chains. It is important to note that the trading relationships typically require less than 20% of a Cooperative’s production, so there is a large quantity of coffee available to other industry partners that will benefit from these works.
The project’s strategy integrates a demand-driven methodology that creates a set of incentives to catalyze a “race to the top” whereby farmers are seeking to implement the identified best practices. The ultimate goal is to secure the supply of great coffee for years to come, and to prove that though climate change threatens to destroy the supply of our industry’s coffee, we can invest in long-term solutions that defend farmers, their farms, and their production for years to come.
Alexandra Katona-Carroll has been in the specialty coffee industry for over five years. She has worked for SCAA and works part-time as the programs manager at CQI. She is the founder of a new company, Sensaay, which is dedicated to the promotion of specialty coffee, craft beer and fine tea.
I’m just back from a whirlwind week-and-a-half buying trip to Bolivia and Peru. More on Peru later, this first installment is focused on Bolivia…
Latin America’s only landlocked coffee producer faces a lot of challenges that other producing countries just don’t have to deal with. The coffee producing region is separated from shipping ports by mountain passes reaching to nearly 16,000 feet. The Andes are not small mountains. Logic might warn you against producing coffee here, or more personally as it relates to me, traveling to a place where your plane lands at 13,000 above sea level, only to wake up to a ride on the “Camino de Muerte” (The Death Road), a highway clinging to the side of cliffs with vertical drops reaching a mile or more at some points.
But logic, in all of its clear-headed and dispassionate reason doesn’t know how good Bolivian coffee can be. The deep sugary sweetness, complex and elegant acidity, and subtle citric characteristics are more than worth a little adventure. For those of you who know and love our Musasa, Rwanda single origin, the characteristics of that cup are the best comparison I can make. And so it was that I found myself wondering if I’d bought enough ibuprofin to-go at the Miami airport. How bad could the altitude induced headache be? And more than a little excited to taste some great coffee and meet the folks behind Union Pro-Agro and ASOCAFE, two of Bolivia’s most promising cooperatives.
A little backstory/context…Bolivia has shone in the past few years via the Cup of Excellence, a national competition that winnows the best lots from the year’s harvest, and offers them on an international auction. Small lots of truly exceptional quality emerged from the mass of good, but not great coffee. The disparate nature of the Bolivian industry— thousands and thousands of small scale farmers in near-ideal growing conditions—availed a whole new set of opportunities for differentiated production. Buyers have swarmed, and farmers got bit by the craft bug. Good things. At the same time, there’s a shared sense that Bolivian coffee could be a lot better than it usually is. Small lots came out tasting way better than big lots. The Cup of Excellence is a kind of proof of the potential here. But finding a needle in the haystack is one thing, finding a reliable supply of great coffee is another. The challenge is how to find exceptional coffee, not just in tiny micro-lots, but from farm, next to farm, next to farm, within these emerging cooperatives.
On my first day, before leaving for a six hour (sometimes harrowing) drive to Caranavi I had a chance to cup through dozens of samples from Union Pro Agro, and ASOCAFE. Thanks to the hard work Al Liu at Atlas Coffee Importers (based in Seattle) I have the dream set-up: a contract for 100 bags of the best coffee we can find, to be selected bag-by-bag, and combined into a lot comprised of only the finest coffees. It turns out that this is exactly the kind of contract we want and need. 3/4 of the coffee we cupped did not live up to its potential. Hints of greatness were muted by defects, the most prevalent being poor post-harvest processing, especially the puckering dryness associated with overfermentation. But tucked amidst these disappointments were some gems. And one by one, the good emerged from the bad, and the truly exciting rose to the top. Cupping at this level requires a lot of patience, and while you hope that a great coffee might represent a lot of 10 or 20 bags, its more common that it represents a lot of 3 or 4 bags—the day’s production from a single small farm. Slow as it may be, each discovery is a step in the right direction and a step closer to finding the coffee we need, and the farmers who grow it.
I spent the next two days in the mountains of northeasten Bolivia, walking through farm after farm with farmers, inspecting central washing stations with clean cement fermentation tanks and washing channels, small on-farm mills with wooden tanks and channels; the whole range of good, bad, and ugly from a quality perspective, but absolutely fascinating and exciting from a human perspective. I was fed wild animals that don’t have English names, saw more butterflies than I’ve ever seen before, and met farmer after farmer excited to know that there is a market for their great coffee that will reward the extra work required to produce it with prices that more than justify the extra labor.
Before returning to La Paz on last morning in Caranavi we cupped another few tables of coffee. Again, a lot of coffee that you wouldn’t travel the world for, but a couple that really shone. Atlas has contracted the help of an outstanding young Bolivian cupper, Noemi Apaza, and the three of us left that last cupping clear about what we didn’t want, and more importantly, what we want—both what the taste profile should be, and also, which farmers within the two cooperatives seem to have a handle on how to produce the quality we’re looking for.
Because the harvest is still underway, we’re waiting for the full array of samples available to us. Noemi is preparing a bulk shipment of somewhere between 30 and 50 of the best samples, and from those we’ll be making our selections and arranging our shipment.
I look forward to posting again as we solidify our purchases, and even more so, to the arrival of these fine coffees sometime towards the end of November.
Check out the gallery below for a sense of where this great coffee is coming from.
It’s nice to be able to share some exciting (good) news this morning. Nearly three weeks after a fire nearly devastated our company, a project that we’ve been working on for over two years is about to take off. The project, a coordinated effort to incentivize the 2,000 plus farmers of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in Rwanda to plant trees, has officially received 30,000 Euros in funding from the Dutch charity Progreso. The initial stages will begin shortly.
Why does it matter that Rwandan coffee farmers plant trees?
For a number of reasons, obviously. Shade trees are an integral part of a healthy coffee farm, and provide valuable ecosystem services that are well known and documented. Additionally they provide habitat for wildlife. A well forested coffee farm is simultaneously a source of income for the farmer, and a healthy part of the ecosystem, a “two birds with one stone” reality that’s been behind our efforts for almost two decades now to push for the spread of shade grown, organic coffee cultivation.
But there’s another reason—climate change—that brings the need for shade and ecological diversity into sharper focus. With global temperatures rising, and weather patterns becoming more and more erratic, coffee farms (and farmers everywhere) can expect to see longer dry periods, more intense wet periods, and less regular seasonal patterns. These changes will be especially extreme in the tropics. As a result, the the occurrence and severity of droughts will increase, powerful concentrations of rainfall will erode soils, and the very quality of coffee—dependent on cool night temperatures to enable slow fruit ripening, could likely diminish overtime.
Trees, though not a panacea, offer the farmers a fighting chance. Their shade, leaf litter and roots can help soil retain moisture and stability. They trap humidity under their canopy, and can reduce day and night temperatures which can maintain the necessary cool temperatures even as overall temperatures increase. In short, trees may save the ecosystem, and save the farmers livelihoods.
“The cooperative is important for us because I have three children in secondary school—they are orphans from the genocide. We are farmers, and coffee is the crop that we use to raise the money for school tuition.”
Augustine Rebagisha, Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, Rwanda
Please read on for more information, directly from the recently approved project proposal.
A majority of the 1,810 family farmers of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative have never driven a car. They mostly live without electricity and consume food that is grown within 100 miles. They farm small plots of land without the use of tractors or other motorized machinery. While these farmers bear little responsibility for the causes of climate change, they are among those who will be most impacted by its consequences.
By the time a youth in the cooperative’s community is 25, they will likely see average rainfall in the wet season (December-February) increase by 12%. By the time they are 50, it is likely that rainfall during the wet season will increase by 25%. Conversely, when they are 25, they will likely see rainfall in the dry season (June-August) decrease by 8%, and by the time they are 50 a likely decrease by 15%. These changes in rainfall are likely to be coupled with more intensified extreme weather (ie rains are likely to be concentrated in shorter, more intense storms) and are likely to cause increased flooding and erosion, a loss of surface soils water holding capacity by 25-75%, a high likelihood of full or partial crop loss due to drought and flooding, and a sum impact that threatens to destroy individual farmers’ livelihoods and the community’s future.
Coupled with population growth these anticipated changes dramatically underline the need for adaptation plans that integrate the ecological, social, and economic needs of the Musasa community. These anticipated impacts of climate change point to the need for environmental restoration to enhance local ecosystems’ natural resiliency, investment in community led resource managment, and cooperative led efforts for a proactive engagement with the anticipated threats to the farmers, their livelihoods, food security, and their children’s future.
To secure the long-term sustainability of farming in the Musasa region, with a focus on sustaining the production of coffee as value-added cash crop; to improve coffee farmers’ productivity and on-farm biodiversity; to establish shade tree cover on coffee farms; to develop alternate food and cash crops; to protect watersheds and reforest marginalized land; to continue the development of quality of life in conjunction with development of ecosystem health and overall environmental sustainability.
On Individual Farms
Increase and sustain productivity of coffee farms and improve nutrition and income stream through the following strategies:
-Establish shade cover on all member farms and increase soil fertility trough planting of leguminous trees and coffer crop, high mulching trees and increased access to and use livestock manure.
-Increase access to livestock for production of organic manure/fertilizer
-Identify symbiotic food and vegetable crops and a public education campaign to increase farmers food self-sufficiency, mitigate increased food cost and improve nutrition /quality of life.
-Identify alternate cash crops , market opportunities for value-added production , and sales avenues to diversify farmer’s incomes.
Manage and protect community watersheds, enhance protection of headwaters, and increase water retention and aquifer storage through the following strategies:
-Create public education campaign to increase community awareness of environmental and resource management issues, climate change , and the cooperatives leadership in addressing the community’s economic and environmental challenges.
-Work with local teachers and schools to create a youth-centered outreach and education program.
-Create an environmental literacy campaign for cooperative members and build collective sense of ownership of the community’s ecosystem.
-Map watersheds and create a public education campaign around awareness of watershed geography and corresponding stakeholders.
-Identify headwaters and strategies to protect and enhance soil absorption and erosion control.
-Identify soil absorption and erosion control strategies for down –watersheds areas , including reforestation ,building of swales and drainage channels , and planting of erosion controlling food and fodder crops.
-Nurture a long-term vision for community’s continued economic development and ecosystem management and protection.
Strategy and Execution
The execution of this project will be under the responsibility of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, which will plan for different activities and make a follow-up and necessary evaluations of the project. The project is separated into an initial three-year period followed by a 2-year extension. At the end of 3 years period The Cooperative will make a final evaluation and report to be addressed to funders. Pending good execution and management of the project funds and strategies, The Cooperative hopes to establish a solid basis of understanding implemented in its members and funders for the continuation of the project’s second-term goals and strategies.
The project’s first phase will focus on the following five steps:
1.Public education and general sensitization focused on climate change and its likely impacts
In this first step, the cooperative leadership will be responsible for identifying and training 10 members representing 10 area villages/zones the intention and goals of this project. These 10 members will be responsible for leading public education campaign in their respective villages/zones. The cooperative will make follow-up visits in each village/zone to monitor transmission and reinforce message, intention, and goals.
As the environmental problem is and climate change is not are not a specific problem for The Cooperative’s members only, it will be necessary to cooperative members and non-members in this step of the project. The Cooperative’s Ruli and Coko Station agronomists will be asked to join the training team, and will be responsible for accompanying trainers and offering additional support.
The Cooperative will work with local schools to enlist local primary and secondary school-age youth. The Cooperative has identified that youth are better able than their parents to understand the problems of deforestation, erosion, and climate change. Youth will play certainly a fundamental role in their parent’s education.
2.Establishment of cooperative-operated seedling nurseries
This second step will create shade cover trees nurseries from which the members will be able to obtain seedlings of strategically-selected tree varieties for intercropping in their coffee plantations. Trees will be selected for their best mix of the following attributes: fast growing, high-mulching, low-water usage, fruit-bearing, and nitrogen-fixing. A central seedling nursery will be established at each washing station under the management of The Cooperative.
See Appendix A for a draft list of best practices.
3.Shade cover tree planting and on-farm erosion control
Timed to coincide with the conclusion of the initial sensitization and training phases, the distribution of tree seedlings from the three cooperative-run nurseries will enable an initial round of on-farm tree planting. Tree planting guidelines will be established by The Cooperative, and best practices will be defined and clearly shared with farmers using an enumerated list of criteria established by The Cooperative. Later, this list will be used to evaluate model farms (see step 4 below).
In addition to model best-practices for on-farm tree planting, best practices for swale construction will be established and articulated. Farmers will be simultaneously encouraged to reforest their farms, establish shade canopy, increase natural mulching, and protect topsoil through erosion control.
4. Evaluation of members participation in the project and distribution of cows
Increasing access to organic manure is a critical to the maintenance of existing farm productivity through enhancement of soil health and fertility. To accomplish this goal and to create an incentive-based project, The Cooperative is seeking funding for 25 cows which will be offered as rewards to the 25 farmers with the highest scores on the pre-established evaluation criteria. Evaluation will be conducted by a panel of 3 representatives from the democratically elected Board of Directors. These farmers will be responsible for breeding these cattle as soon as possible, and the first calf will be made available to the next 25-best performing farmers in a second round, followed by continuing rounds of breeding and calf-sharing.
5.Project evaluation and Final report
The project has to be executed for three years according to the action plan presented by The Cooperative. After the three years period , the cooperative will execute the first evaluation for the first part of the project based on the successful completion of steps 1-4.
The second 2-year phase of the project will focus on community-wide reforestation and watershed protection efforts. It is expected that the first three year phase will mobilize public will and support for environmental restoration, as well as the need for such restoration in the face of climate change. A survey mapping out watershed health, strengths and weakness will be conducted, and a community and government resources will be mobilized to reforest marginalized ridgelines, increase absorption of headwater surface soils, and prevent erosion caused by heavy rains.
- Map watersheds and identify strengths, weaknesses, and a prioritized list of interventions.
The Cooperative will lead a watershed mapping project led by the full-time agronomists with the assistance of a contracted third-party hydrologist. The mapping will seek to identify current watershed strengths which will be articulated, and current watershed weaknesses, for which interventions will be proposed. Because the national government owns and closely regulates use of ridge-top lands, local ministry officials will need to be brought in as partners in the mapping and restoration process.
- Support targeted interventions to reduce erosion and increase soil absorption and retention of water to protect and replentish local aquifer and river systems.
The Cooperative will lead a community-driven initiative to strengthen the upstream ecology and hydrology. Stakeholders will undertake projects to reforest marginalized lands with a focus on tree selection for maximum soil retention/erosion control, grass and earth swales will be built to protect against erosion, as well as the planting, as possible, of erosion-controlling food and animal fodder crops.
- Nurture a long-term vision for community’s continued economic development and ecosystem management and protection.
The Cooperative will work towards establishing a community-wide shared commitment to environmental sustainability. Youth-based education campaigns will continue through local school systems. Cooperative and community members will be encouraged to contribute their monthly Umuganda (obligatory monthly day of community service) to the care and restoration of the community’s ecology.
 IPCC A1B Scenario
 Dunne & Wilmott, 1996