A Costa Rican coffee farmer is taking steps toward total sustainability

With the support of an agronomist, a forward-thinking farmer has been working to close the loop on his sustainable coffee farm.

Friday, 8 May 2020,
By Jack Neighbour
A Costa Rican coffee farmer is taking steps toward total sustainability
A Costa Rican coffee farmer is taking steps toward total sustainability

Find out what it takes to build a sustainable coffee farm.

Photograph by GUILLERMO TRAPIELLO

Home to around five percent of the world’s known biodiversity, the Republic of Costa Rica has long been considered a sustainability success story. Almost 30 percent of the country’s territory is protected nature reserves, safeguarding the forests that cover over half of the land. The fact that Costa Rica also produces some of world’s best Arabica coffee is no coincidence either, as the two practices are linked—protected natural ecosystems produce some of the best quality coffee.

Since coffee first took root along Costa Rica’s Central Valley in the late 1700s, small farms have played a big role in production, fostering mild, softly acidic beans on smallholdings rarely larger than 12 acres. These rustic little plantations are often almost indistinguishable from their lush natural surroundings and are permeated by a colourful cornucopia of flora that’s teeming with life. Harnessing this natural harmony is what Costa Rican coffee farmers owe their delicious beans to, and it is what persuaded ex-taxi driver Luis Emilio back to a life of coffee cultivation, following in his family’s footsteps. 

Having bought his farm around a decade ago, Luis fell in love with the idea that growing distinctive coffee in a naturalistic way represents what makes Costa Rica a benchmark for sustainable thinking. Walking around his farm, you feel at one with nature, almost forgetting that you’re weaving through coffee trees that have been manicured and nurtured for excellent productivity. Quality is everything here, and to maintain it, Luis sought the help of Nespresso agronomist Fernando Segura, who has since become a close friend as well as a trusted advisor. “I come here to tell [Luis] all the things I have learnt, but he’s the one who puts it into practice. We’re a really good team,” beams Fernando. Together they’ve transformed Luis’ farm into a haven of circularity that’s resistant to the effects of climate change. Growing coffee in the shade of barrier trees helps nourish the soil, as the leaves that fall from their branches compost down and condition the earth with nutrients. The sentinel trees also provide homes for birds, which keep insect populations at bay to ensure a natural equilibrium of wildlife in the area.

And it’s not just biodiversity that’s benefitted from Fernando and Luis’ sustainable approach, as Luis uses the knowledge, he’s gained from Fernando to manage the administrative side of his business—paying fair wages and monitoring improvements year after year.

Luis’s smallholding is a prime example of how to set up a sustainable farm that sits within and supports the local natural ecosystem. The relationship between himself and the Nespresso AAA Sustainability Programme that he’s partnered with is also circular in nature, as the skills and resources Luis has received have helped him realize his sustainability goals. Being on the journey with him has let experts within the programme carry learnings through to other coffee growing regions—a win-win situation. “I’m really glad and grateful to Fernando,” Luis claims warmly as he looks over the breath-taking vista his farm affords him, “for all of his help.”

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