A bright future for coffee farmers depends on water, smart techniques and all of us

After visiting the Lam Dong region where rising temperatures and longer dry periods are big problems due to climate change, Henriette Walz – UTZ’ Climate Change and Environmental expert – moves North to Dak Lak. There, the situation is more critical. Temperatures are even higher. Lack of water in the dry season remains to be the main problem, and water saving through, for example, efficient irrigation is crucial for adequate coffee production.

Irrigation_coffee_plantation_Vietnam_UTZ

Irrigation at coffee plantation, Vietnam

A step forward

Farmers part of the Coffee Climate Care Project (C3), are being trained in techniques, such as irrigation, pest management, optimal fertilization, shade management, cover crop and erosion management. The aim of the project is for them to be able to adapt to climate change effects but also mitigate their contribution to it.

“A key success factor of the C3 project has been the close collaboration with local actors to identify risks and implement adaptive measures to climate change. First, this participatory approach helped us and the trainers to provide specific information that matches the local context. Second, this made sure that trainers and farmers can really identify with the advice. That way they are also more motivated to follow it.” Says Henriette.

When asking farmers about their experience with the training sessions, H’ Tu Kbuor, father of 3 and second generation coffee farmer, replies:

I sometimes did things wrong or didn’t know how to best do things. For example, I did not know how much fertilizer I should apply [and] when. And this was the same for other activities. From the climate change trainings we learned that we have to plant new trees, use less chemical fertilizers, apply them better and save water in irrigation.”

The future of coffee

Farmer_family_Coffee_Climate_Care_Project_Vietnam_UTZ

H’Tu Kbuor, Y’Sol Mlo and their youngest daughter

H’ Tu Kbuor (41) and Y’ Sol Mlo (45) started growing coffee at a very young age. They have three children, the oldest (25) is manager of the cooperative, the second one (20) is studying to become a nurse and the youngest one (14) is in third grade of elementary school and wants to be a teacher.

During the last 25 years H’ Tu Kbuor has noticed changes in coffee production. According to him the weather has changed, there is less rain, the temperatures are higher and the dry season is longer. These changes have affected coffee production; productivity was higher in the past. “When we started coffee, the soil quality was very good and we had a high productivity. But now the fertility is low and the coffee does not grow so well anymore,” he adds.

A brighter future, or not yet?

Adaptation and mitigation practices are essential for farmers as H’ Tu Kbuor. However, if actions are not taken on a more global scale, climate change will remain to be a threat for this and other families’ livelihoods around the world. H’ Tu Kbuor adds, “If the next 4-5 years are very dry and less rain is coming, there will be a serious lack of water. Then I don’t know whether coffee production can continue. It really depends on the weather. If the weather is like in the past couple of years, there will be a lack of water and people will change to other crops or find other jobs.”

Coffee Climate Care project – The faces behind the story

From Lam Dong to Dak Lak, meet some of the UTZ farmers tackling climate change. As part of the Coffee Climate Care project in Vietnam, these farmers attended field school, receiving training on climate change impacts in the region, causes of climate change, and adaptation practices. More specifically, the training sessions covered: irrigation, pest management, optimal fertilization, shade management, cover crop and erosion management. Here, their experiences with the project so far.

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From the Vietnamese highlands, a story about coffee and sun

Coffee Clima­te Ca­re (C3) project

To combat the rising temperatures and extreme weather patterns producers in Vietnam are facing due to climate change, UTZ Certified has been running a 3 ­year project to help producers recognize and identify­ the risks the­y face and introduce measures that will enable them to adapt.

The project, Coffee Climate Care – C3, helps the producers recognize their vulnerabilities to climate change and implement measures to cope with them. Henriette Walz, UTZ’ Climate Change & Environmental expert is at the moment in Vietnam visiting the farmers participating in the C3 project and assessing its status and effects.

Henriette Walz, Climate Change and Environmental expert - UTZ Certified

Henriette Walz, Climate Change and Environmental expert – UTZ Certified

“Most striking for me so far is a shift in mindset of the farmers concerning good agricultural practices. Through learning in-depth about climate change and at the same time feeling the impact it has on their farms, a lot of them now want to implement agricultural practices that might have been recommended before, but were not implemented because of a focus on short term profits. In a way, climate change makes sustainable practices a necessity”, says Henriette.

In the upcoming weeks Henriette will be sharing her experience in Vietnam through the UTZ blog. Today, she interviews Pham Van Hoan, a 62 year old farmer, father of two, owner of a 0.9 ha Arabica coffee farm in the region of Lam Dong.

Pham Van Hoan, Lam Dong, Vietnam

Pham Van Hoan, Lam Dong, Vietnam

HW: How do you see climate change happening on your farm?

I know about climate change from the training in the C3 program. The weather used to be foreseeable, but it is not anymore. For example, in the rainy season, there used to be sun in the morning and it rained in the afternoon. Now it is not so regular. This is a big problem for the growth of coffee plants and a big problem for coffee production in the whole area. Through C3 we now know where it comes from and what we can do to prepare the coffee plantations and try to minimize where we cause climate change ourselves.

HW: What is the danger for your coffee crops?

That the flowers don’t develop into fruits but dry out. Also, before we did not need irrigation, now we do. Last, but not least, there are new pests. I have been growing Arabica coffee since 1999 and we never had any mosquito bugs affecting the plants. Now we do have them.

HW: What is the most important thing you have learned in the C3 project that will help you to deal with the effects of climate change?

I have learned which measures I can take to deal better with the challenges we face. Those are for example cover crops; I plant cover crops at the side of the plot and leave the grass on the field to protect against erosion. In the past I used to clear the plot, now I only cut the weeds before fertilization. This brings nutrition to the plants and lowers the temperature of the soil.

I am also planting shade trees. They are really important for Arabica trees. They get stronger and develop less secondary branches. My neighbors have seen this and now want to do the same, so have opened a nursery for pepper seedlings to supply them.

Shade trees protect coffee plants against climate change impacts

Shade trees protect coffee plants against climate change impacts

Also, I have changed the fertilization management. I had to hire additional labor for this, as I now apply the fertilizer much more targeted in trenches and I balance the NKP content (note: NKP stands for nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, the three most common components of fertilizers) so that it is adequate for my coffee trees.

HW: What has changed for you since your farm has been UTZ certified?

When I started working with UTZ, I got training on Good Agricultural Practices. Since then I haven’t sprayed any pesticides, for 3 years no herbicides, only fungicides.

HW: How do you see the future of coffee farming in this region?

Maybe the area of coffee production will be smaller in the future, or the productivity lower. This year has already been very tough, very dry. When Catimor (note: Catimor is the type of Arabica coffee he plants) flowers, they need a lot of water. In addition, prices are very low at the moment (6000VND-30Euro Cents per kg fresh cherry), so we will see how this develops.

“The biggest challenge of climate change in the Vietnamese Lam Dong region might be the lack of water in the dry season, while at the same time a higher need for irrigation due to higher temperatures. Only a combination of many actions will prepare farmers against this including some work on community and maybe governmental level. Nonetheless farmers are incredibly motivated to implement measure to make the farms more suitable against climate change impacts and decrease their own footprint after noticing the impacts and learning about it through the C3 trainings.” Henriette adds.

In the following days, Henriette will be moving north to visit the farms in the region of Dak Lak, don’t miss her stories. “How farmers adapt best to climate change depends on the region and the situation of the plantations: I am now traveling from our pilot group in the Lam Dong Area, where it is crucial for farmers to plant more shade trees, to the lower Dak Lak area where plantations are already shaded, as temperatures have already been higher in the past. Curious to see which measures are prioritized there!”

More information about the Coffee Climate Care (C3) project here. Also how UTZ Certified works towards a more sustainable future by tackling the effects of climate change.


Henriette Walz

Climate Change & Environmental Expert

Motivation: “Climate change is already affecting agriculture in many regions of the world. At the same time food production accounts for a large part of greenhouse gas emissions. By assisting consumers in supporting sustainable production methods, UTZ can reduce the impact of agriculture on the climate and increase the resilience of farmers to the effects of climate change.”

A story about cocoa doctors – and a few lost surgeons

It is 32 degrees, and the humidity must at least be 70 percent. One minute outside is enough to make you sweat like a waterfall. At this point, we have been outside for 20 minutes and I have started to embrace my state of sweatiness. Or at least, I am trying to, while counting the hours to my next shower. To add to my discomfort: we have just been given plastic gloves and a mask, to protect our skin and lungs from any chemicals. Let me tell you: plastic gloves and sweaty hands are not a charming combination.

UTZ team at the Mars Academy Indonesia, 2015

UTZ team at the Mars Academy Indonesia, 2015

My 8 colleagues and I are guests at the Mars Academy in Tarengge, Sulawesi, Indonesia for a five day training. We are taught about Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in cocoa farming, such as pruning, fertilization, harvesting, pest & disease control (including spraying), and more. As most of us work in the UTZ office in Amsterdam, this is a wonderful opportunity to get more practical experience in the field, and it surely paid off.

Today’s topic: Pest & Disease Control on cocoa trees, or to be more specific: pesticide spraying. After all the ingredients and water are safely mixed (in an area solely used for this purpose, far from a source of drinking water), our instructor puts on his safety clothes to give us the demonstration we have been waiting for. He was already wearing gloves and a mask. His mask looks like a gas mask, while our masks make us seem to be a bunch of out-of-place surgeons. Our instructor is now adding more layers to his already warm clothes (jeans and long-sleeve shirt): plastic pants, high welly boots, a rain coat, safety goggles, and a hat – over which he puts the hood of his rain coat. With each layer he puts on, my self-pity evaporates.

Pest & Disease Control on cocoa trees

Pest & Disease Control on cocoa trees

So this is what it really means for farmers to safely spray their crop – and they do this between 10 and 22 times per year without missing any of the many layers. For a tropical country like Indonesia with two seasons (basically: hot and dry, or hot and wet), that must not be an easy task. Five minutes in my gloves was enough discomfort to make me truly relieved when I can take them off again – imagine wearing this suit, and spraying your crop, tree for tree, hectare for hectare.

Needless to say, this trip has been truly inspirational for us. Mars has set up their own training program for farmers here in Indonesia: the Cocoa Development Center in Tarengge trains Cocoa Doctors, who will set up a Mars Cocoa Village Center (CVC) in their villages. These cocoa doctors are in turn responsible to share their knowledge and skills with farmers in their villages in order to improve their Good Agricultural Practices: increasing their productivity, yields, and thereby their income. In this respect, there is quite some overlap with the UTZ program, although our Code of Conduct for farmers includes control points on economic, environmental and social criteria that are not part of the Mars program.

For 4,5 days we learned about the importance of soil quality and how to improve it, made compost, sanitized trees (freed them from pests and infections), pruned trees, harvested cocoa pods, visited a Mars Cocoa Buying Station where the beans are sold, learned grafting on a cocoa seedling, and much more.

Anne Manschot, Senior Program and Member Support Coordinator at UTZ

Anne Manschot, Senior Program and Member Support Coordinator at UTZ

This experience has helped us to much better understand the realities on the field and the challenges for farmers – something you can never fully grasp from your desk in our (however beautiful) office in Amsterdam. Take pesticide spraying, for example. Did you know that a farmer loses around 30-50%  of his harvest due to pest and diseases when no control is applied? And around 10% when certain control is applied? This is why UTZ promotes Integrated Pest Management and works closely together with producers to find appropriate alternatives to pest control. Needless to say, part of the deal is that you are only allowed to spray when wearing protective clothing – no matter how uncomfortable they are in the sweltering heat.

October 2015 – Anne Manschot, Senior Program and Member Support Coordinator at UTZ Certified.

Talking coffee and sustainability with Jefferson Adorno – Brazilian coffee farmer

“I’m so proud to produce a sustainable coffee. Our Kaynã is a good coffee, good for those who consume it, good for those who help produce it and good for the planet. Knowing that there are people who value all this when they choose which coffee to buy encourages us to continue.

Jefferson Adorno (44), is a coffee farmer who lives and breathes sustainability. Jefferson’s Kaynã coffee grown in the São Paulo state of Brazil, is certified to UTZ and has been recognized with the prestigious Brazil Outstanding Coffee Grower award.

We caught up with Jefferson to find out how sustainability helps drive his work.

Jefferson, first of all: what brought you to coffee farming?

15 years ago I left my career in electronic engineering to start helping my father here on the coffee farm. My parents had already invested in improving conditions for workers on the farm and I built on that work to start developing environmental actions and new management techniques. After five years of hard work and difficulties we received the prestigious award ‘Brazil Outstanding Coffee Grower’ in 2009. This gave us courage and reinforced our belief that we were heading in the right direction.

Today I manage the farm with support from my wife Marianna, an agronomist and professor at UNIPINHAL University. Together with our two sons and daughter we live at the farm.

Why is sustainability important to you?

Sustainability for me is a very broad concept that is present in everything we do in our day-to-day lives. It comes down to the ethics of how we relate to each other – treating others as we would like them to treat us. This is what helps me take the rights decisions day to day whether that involves management issues on the coffee plantation, preservation of water sources, correct disposal of waste, or ensuring a good quality of life for our employees and their families who live here on the farm.

For me, you can’t put a fence around sustainability. We need to think bigger and to consider the impacts of what we do on our neighbours and our municipality and beyond. Whether that is providing services to our neighbourhood, analysing the river water coming out of our farm to make sure it is cleaner than when it came in or inviting school children here to learn about the environment.

How has UTZ certification benefited you?

In 2010 we became Rainforest Alliance certified and achieved UTZ certification in 2013. Becoming UTZ certified was a long-held ambition for us but it was hard to achieve because as a small-scale operation it was hard to cover the costs of two audits per year. Fortunately with the help of Volcafé, the coffee exporter, we were able to overcome this obstacle.

There have been many benefits to UTZ certification particularly in relation to food safety and traceability. We’ve also been able to improve our first aid training, implement better integrated pest management techniques and improve our record keeping in the field. UTZ certification brings credibility to what we do and gives consumers confidence in sustainably produced coffee.

What’s your ambition for the future?

The only way our planet can provide a good future for our children is if the sustainability movement gains scale. Just doing our part isn’t enough – we need to drop seeds of sustainability everywhere, and help create change on a much bigger scale.

Want to read more about what sustainable coffee means to Jefferson and the workers on his plantation? Have a look at his website!

Climate change and the bottom line

Recbetter careent research by the UK’s Carbon Trust shows that four out of five companies now believe that a changing climate and resource scarcity are likely to impact their bottom line. In fact, over half those surveyed felt that they would have to fundamentally change their products, services and business models to become environmentally sustainable.

Recognising the problem is just the first step however, and the research by the Carbon Trust shows that many companies are still struggling to take the right action. Despite the long term risks and opportunities presented by climate change, many businesses still adopt short term thinking. This is bad for the environment and also bad for business – 84% of companies have identified business opportunities from becoming more sustainable.

rooibos snipFortunately sustainable sourcing can play an important role in helping companies address climate risks in their supply chain. UTZ farmers are helped to adapt to the effects of climate change and to reduce their own environmental footprint – so by buying UTZ certified products, companies are supporting more climate friendly production. Not the whole solution to climate change but an important step in the right direction.

Read more about the Carbon Trust research herebetter care1

Securing a living income for cocoa farmers

For many of us chocolate is a treat, for some even a guilty pleasure and for many something we take for granted. But what about the cocoa farmers, who are producing the key ingredient, what is the impact it has on their lives? Is cocoa providing them and their families with a living income?

This year’s cocoa barometer highlighted that despite the fact that cocoa farmers were growing a product in great demand that grows only in a small part of the world, many cocoa farmers live in poverty. So, what can be done?

Better farming, better future.

M. Fofana Danon- Cocoa Farmer - Cooperative CINPA -Agboville - Cote d'Ivoire in October 2013At UTZ we believe that by supporting farmers to implement good agricultural practices they are able to increase their productivity, helping them increase their income, and helping them to increase the entrepreneurial skills which can help them access new markets. This leads to positive outcomes for the farmer and their families.

An independent study of UTZ Certified cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire published in 2014 found that 82 percent of UTZ farmers saw their living conditions improve through increased income, and more than half of them use their increased income for their children’s education.

The trend towards sustainably produced cocoa is rising continuously, which is good news for UTZ Certified farmers, in 2014 UTZ sustainable cocoa was enough to produce nearly 10 billion (sustainable) bars of chocolate. Major chocolate companies have made commitments to go 100% sustainable in their cocoa supply in the next 5 to 10 years.   These are all positive steps, but the reality remains that for many cocoa farmers they are still earning barely enough money to survive. Let alone to pay their workers a living wage or earn an income that allows them to afford the basic standards of living including housing, food and education.

A living wage or income

The Cocoa Barometer demonstrated that much more needs to be done, from the governments in producer countries, by the industry – as well as by us.

An important element to further expand our positive impact, is the definition of a living wage for workers and living income for farmers. A living income is crucial for cocoa farmers in order to ensure they earn enough to be able to afford a basic standard of living to include:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • A small amount of savings for when the unexpected happens
  • And for farmers enough income to be able to invest in their farms for the longer term security.

We at UTZ have been working with the other sustainability standards on a key step in ensuring a living wage / income becomes a reality for farmers worldwide. Working with farmer’s organisations, researchers and based on a method of calculation devised by economists Richard and Martha Anker, the living wage benchmark takes into account the actual costs of food, health care, housing, education, transport and a small amount of savings in order to allow workers to be prepared for the unexpected.  The calculation takes into account that in some cases agricultural workers will receive in kind payments in the guise of housing or other benefits, and calculates by region and sector an actual living wage.

This is important as it will enable us to show where a living wage is not being paid, and therefore where additional actions need to be taken either at a local, regional, national or company level.

Cinpa farmers in Agboville

In addition, our recently revised code includes taking steps towards the payment of a living wage – when this is greater than a minimum wage. The new code requires that employers take steps to improve worker wages in line with local living wage levels. Here we require a comparison between the workers remuneration, including cash and in-kind wages, with living wage estimates provided by UTZ based on the benchmarks. Where wages are below living wage, steps should be taken to increase wages towards living wage levels over time.

For cocoa farmers, many of whom are not workers but independent farmers this is also an important step, as the living wage levels will also demonstrate where an income is less than enough to live on.

We are working with the cocoa farmers to ensure a better future, but we all need to play our part, what will you do to ensure cocoa farmers earn enough to live on?