5% of the coffee produced in Nicaragua is grown in and around Lake Apanàs - a man-made watershed sitting at 1,200 meters in the Jinotega hills – the country’s primary coffee region.
The lake has both economic and environmental significance; as a source of income and water for the surrounding inhabitants and much of the nation’s hydropower. It’s also a biodiversity habitat and was declared a wetland of international importance by UNESCO in 2001 for the conservation of fauna and flora of the whole of Central America.
But the deterioration of the surrounding environment – from deforestation, sedimentation and unsustainable farming practices - means the lake could disappear completely in less than 10 years. And in one of the most exposed countries to natural disasters, with high poverty levels and production systems heavily dependent on natural resources; jobs, food, and livelihoods would dry up with it.
Olam’s response has been to work with the coffee producers who live and work around the Apanàs basin, to instill a more ecological approach to production where they become more resilient to the impacts of climate change by adopting environmentally sustainable practices. Among these practices is the incorporation of shade crops into coffee farms.
Since the programme started in November 2019, Olam’s agronomists have supplied 12,000 Erythrina - a flowering species of legume - seedlings to plant across 180 hectares of coffee farms. Specifically selected for their high nitrogen fixing and carbon sequestration potential, these trees will help maintain a controlled temperature for coffee growth, which in turn can help water retention, pest control, soil improvement, as well as productivity.
Olam’s agronomists are also running educational programmes for producers to help them understand the impact of their farming activities on the environment and its long-term implications, with training on correct fertiliser and pesticide application, responsible waste management and how to calculate and record farm-level GHG emissions from each harvest.
“I am going to establish a forest nursery to diversify the shade and cover layer to obtain more benefits in the plantation. I have never implemented this practice because before I only planted Guineo (banana) on my coffee plantation for its economic benefits.
“Previously my ideas were that you could not establish large, leafy trees for shade, because they affect the coffee due to disease. With the explanation of the management of shade trees, I realised that there are other types of plants with greater benefits that help the soil not to be damaged, and conserve and restore its fertility with the leaves and branches that we leave in the plantation.”
Nohemí Rosales Estrada, Coffee farmer, Comunidad Las Banquitas, Matagalpa, Nicaragua