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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.

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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

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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.”

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!

The top 5 reasons why sustainable coffee, tea and cocoa taste a lot better

Coffee, tea and cocoa are some of our favorite daily indulgences. Check out these top 5 reasons to go sustainable!

Scaling_up_sustainable_farming_0021) Know where the product comes from

In today’s globalized world you probably use products from several different continents before you even leave the house in the morning. You gulp down a cup of coffee from Brazil, put on a t-shirt made in Bangladesh, use a toothbrush made in China, eat a banana grown in Uganda. Who can keep track anymore?

More and more of us are starting to wonder about the complex supply chains for everyday products. How can we know where these products really come from, and how they were produced?

A sustainability label like UTZ Certified means you can be sure that the company or brand sourced coffee, cocoa or tea from a farm that operates sustainably with respect for people and the planet. That’s because there are rigorous systems behind the scenes to make sure sustainable products are truly linked to sustainable sources.

In fact, some companies even make it possible to trace the coffee or cocoa in a pack all the way back to a specific farm. You can see all the farms that produce UTZ certified products here.

2) Farmer and worker livelihoods

Cocoa_Ghana_dryingbeans8Research shows that being part of a sustainability program like UTZ Certified leads to better livelihoods for farmers and better conditions for workers. Through training in good agricultural practices farmers can increase the amount their farms produce, leading to a better income.

For example, a recent study in Cote D’Ivoire found that UTZ certified farmers produced almost 40% more cocoa than non-certified farmers. Another study showed that the incomes of UTZ certified coffee farmers in Colombia were 65% higher than they would have been without UTZ.

3) Climate change

6Everybody knows that climate change is a massive problem. But it’s not just about polar bears and rising sea levels. Crops like coffee need very specific conditions to thrive, and farmers around the world are struggling with erratic weather patterns. That means higher production costs and lower yields: bad news for farmers, and bad news for everyone who enjoys a good cup of coffee. What can be done about this? We’re working with farmers to find ways to adapt. Find out more here.

4) Environmental protection

Tea_India_Compost_001Many farmers are struggling to cope with climate change, but all too often agriculture also contributes to the problem, through deforestation or waste production.

When coffee, cocoa or tea comes from UTZ certified farms, you know it has been produced with respect for the environment – for example, the protection of primary forest and water sources, promotion of biodiversity, and restrictions on the types of fertilizers and pesticides that can be used.

 

5) Be part of something bigger

More and more companies all over the world are making commitments to sustainability. UTZ labeled products have now been sold in 135 countries, reassuring consumers that the coffee, tea or cocoa was sourced from sustainable origins.

What does that mean? A greater impact for farmers and workers all over the world. And that tastes a lot better!Top-5-2