Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sustainable Coffee Cultivation


As I mentioned before, I came to Central America to do a coffee study for credit through my university with a group of 21 students and our instructor and we visited many places connected with the coffee industry and met with many people in the coffee business to learn more about it. One of the first coffee plantations I visited in Costa Rica was in the Naranjo region, which is known as one of the best regions in the country for growing coffee. The coffee farm is called Espiritu Santo. Carlos, the farm´s agronomist led us on a tour where he showed us the beautiful landscape of the plantation and explained to us some of the intricacies of cultivating coffee and marketing it.

As we were approaching the property we saw literally an ocean of glossy Arabica coffee trees growing in orderly rows like ripples of waves throughout the green mountain region. When we arrived at the farm, we all gathered under a big mango tree just next to the coffee plants. Unfortunately, the tree had been neglected so the earth below the tree was heavily littered with rotting mangoes. The stench of the mangoes was unbearable, but thankfully my scarf served as a face mask which helped mask the smell. The ground was also infested with every kind of insect you can imagine from beetles and ants to ticks and wasps and even jumping spiders and we could feel the mangoes squishing under our feet like a wet shag carpet. It seemed that this did not bug the facilitators of the group so we had to stay there among the bugs and stink for what seemed like forever while he gave us the introduction about their farm. It was hard to concentrate on what the speaker was saying but fortunately I filmed it so I could watch the talk again from the comfort of home.

Each student in the group is focusing his study on a different aspect of coffee. I am using coffee to study the concept of holistic sustainability and sustainable business practices. After the first few farms we visited however I soon realized that it would be very hard to make one blanket definition for holistic sustainability as each farm has many different factors affecting the coffee and so different levels of practices work for different farms. Holistic sustainability includes environmental, social, and economic factors.

One factor that I learned about at the Naranjo farm was about the social sustainability, such as how they made a road through the coffee trees so as to allow for trucks to pass through carrying the bags of coffee so that the workers no longer had to carry them for long distances on their backs. Another factor related to holistic sustainability is diversification which contributes to social, economic and environmental factors. For example, this farm is planning a hotel on the property. They also created a botanical garden.

Before beginning this coffee program, I had no idea how complex coffee would be. It seemed the more questions I asked, the deeper and more complicated it would become. As it was my first time on a coffee plantation since I was a child, I was curious about how shade relates to coffee cultivation. All I knew was that shade helped promote biodiversity and protected bird life in the region. I also wondered what other effects it had as well as how it worked. I noticed that this coffee plantation in particular did not have as much ¨shade¨as I would have expected. There were some trees sporadically growing among the coffee plants but in my opinion that did not constitute what I would call shade. I asked the staff member of the farm about it and he said that they preserved enough trees so as to keep the birds coming which in turn provide fertilizer to the coffee plants. He also pointed out that they have conserved a large portion of their outlying land to primary forest instead of using it to plant more coffee trees. I asked him what kind of trees they choose and he told me eucalyptus and some other varieties.

I found it strange later when I went to another farm and they were explaining that eucalyptus trees are so bad for the coffee plants because of many factors including the fact that they are not a native species of plant to Costa Rica (well coffee is not either actually), they have a pH level that is not right for the soil near the coffee trees and they are a very aggressive plant that compete with the coffee trees for nutrients and water.

I soon realized that shade is not a black and white topic, and that the type of shade and how it is applied can vary from farm to farm depending on location, climate, and many more elements. At another farm, one farmer explained that they cannot use a lot of shade on their plantation because the climate in their region is so humid and if they have too much shade then the coffee trees will develop a fungus and die.

It would be hard to label one coffee farm as sustainable and then another not based on one set standard for shade or other factors because as you can see that the shade that works for one farm may not work for another, so it is hard to judge if one farm is more sustainable than another simply on the amount of type of shade available. The photo in this post for example is of a traditional coffee plantation in a mountainous region of Costa Rica called Monte Verde. As you can see there are some trees there among the coffee plants but not too many.

1 comment:

ISO 9000 said...

Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definately be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment.
iso 9000

How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.