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BLENDING COFFEE WITH AGROFORESTRY FOR PROSPEROUS FARMERS AND LIVING LANDSCAPES

On a tropical mountainside of the Frailesca region in Mexico, farmers are planting new coffee saplings and forest trees.

They are part of a reforestation project with the Alliance for Sustainable Landscapes and Markets, in partnership with USAID Mexico and Rainforest Alliance, that is working to conserve biodiversity and provide sustainable livelihoods in the biological corridor of Chiapas, one of Mexico’s key coffee growing states.

The livelihoods of 100,000 families in this area depend on coffee, making the beautiful, heavily forested El Triunfo and La Sepultura biosphere reserves vulnerable to deforestation and degradation, as the impact of climate change on productivity drives farmers higher up the mountain to expand their farmland. The result is uncontrolled fires becoming more frequent, with a serious threat to biodiversity, productive landscapes and the local population’s safety.

Olam has worked alongside impoverished farmers from Chiapas for over seven years, helping them implement sustainable agricultural practices and tackle low productivity that still plagues old coffee farms where the dreaded “coffee rust” has taken hold. In 2018, this multi-stakeholder landscape initiative was launched to build on and scale up these efforts over four years.

Delivering a transformative impact

Improving economic opportunity

Technical support, including pest and disease management, nutrient recommendations, provision of improved seedling varieties and agroforestry practices, will be delivered up to 1,400 farmers, equipping them with the right resources and skills to increase their productivity and incomes.

Half a million coffee saplings have been planted so far, to replace old stock, which, combined with the agronomic training, has already increased the yields of 200 farmers by 60% on average.

The farmers are also trained on post-harvest techniques and provided with specialist drying equipment, so they can elevate the quality of their beans to fetch a higher price. The Alliance then promotes the unique profile of these coffees, defined by cup quality according to a specific micro-lot, to markets to raise public interest and higher premiums.

 

Participating farmer Abelardo Guzman Perez from Villaflores municipality said:

“Last year they (Olam) supported us with 50,000 coffee plants and this year another 15,000 plus the nursery we are making. Today, these 65,000 plants that are already planted, have increased production and thanks to the training of Olam we have the good techniques and tools for good planting. Today we know how to sow.

“We have increased production and quality of life for our families, and we are giving life to the environment!”

Supporting thriving coffee communities

Nutritional deficiencies are common in many remote rural communities, which prompted further investigation by Olam in collaboration with Chiapas University of Sciences and Arts (UNICACh). The latest evidence shows that rates of stunting – a result of chronic undernutrition – as well as children under age five being overweight in Chiapas exceed the national average. While seemingly disparate issues, they share a common cause: poor diet. Olam found that local food markets lack variety and affordable essential food groups, such as fruits and vegetables, while many snacks and ultra-processed foods are readily and cheaply available. In response, the project is supporting farmers with nutrition education and to grow more diverse food crops, such as avocados, zucchinis and beans, alongside coffee. This will not only generate additional income, but help improve the nutrition and health of 30,000+ members of the community with better access to affordable, fresh food.

Regenerating coffee ecosystems

By supporting farmers to enjoy a profitable and sustainable coffee business, we remove the incentive to encroach into protected forest to increase their cultivation area. Instead, farmers are engaged on good environmental stewardship.

Under the project’s focused restoration efforts, more than 400,000 forest trees have been planted so far, with a target of 800,000 by 2023 and to restore and protect 5,000 hectares in and around the El Triunfo and La Sepultura biosphere reserves. This is contributing to Mexico’s goal of zero deforestation by 2030 with a 10mn MT reduction of CO2 equivalent.

These efforts complement federal and state agencies’ collaborative actions to help eradicate uncontrolled fires in this landscape and the entire region.

 

Commenting on the partnership, Edgar Gonzalez, Director of Rainforest Alliance in Mexico said:

“Working with Olam as a partner in The Alliance for Sustainable Landscapes and Markets has been and is a great asset in accomplishing the main goals of the initiative. As one of the most important actors in sustainable sourcing around the world, we share the same vision of the implementation of climate smart agriculture in the amazing coffee landscapes of the state of Chiapas to help producers in the mitigation of climate change, the sustainability of the goods that the forests provide them and their access to a responsible market that impacts directly on the wellbeing of their families and communities.

“We are thrilled to work with Olam side by side in creating solutions that involve producers, industry, markets and consumers, taking actions for a sustainable future.”