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How trees can save coffee cultivation in Guatemala

In Jalapa, where some of Guatemala’s best quality coffee grows, the soil has been suffering. But farmers are using environmental practices to nurture biodiversity, and coffee production, back to life.

WORDS BY JACK NEIGHBOUR

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENA EFFENDI

A RETURN TO THE SHADE

Coffee farmer Don Willy Solares holds a tree sapling that will eventually provide shade for his coffee trees. In a bid to improve crop yields during the 1970s, farmers in the region were advised to clear out foliage to plant more coffee, creating unforeseen consequences like soil erosion, landslides, and warmer ground-level temperatures that threw the ecosystem out of balance. This steady decline is now being reversed, as the Nespresso agroforestry programme helps farmers like Willy restore tree varieties and switch back to more traditional shade-growing methods—helping to safeguard the productivity of their coffee.

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENA EFFENDI

FARMERS CAN REAP EVERYTHING THEY SOW

Don Willy and his wife, Doña Maria, harvest coffee cherries. For Don Willy, the benefits of adopting sustainable farming techniques extend far beyond larger crop yields. He’ll eventually be able to earn extra income from fruit and timber grown by the companion trees he’s been planting to protect the landscape, in addition to Nespresso paying a premium for the increased quality of his coffee.

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENA EFFENDI

PROTECTIVE PLANTING

Sara, a certified Nespresso agronomist, trains workers in a coffee field, who all arrived with saplings to plant on the slopes where their coffee species are already growing. Sara is explaining how these trees will protect the coffee, which grows naturally in the shade, while also creating multiple other benefits—enriching the soil with nutrients, depolluting groundwater, and fortifying the earth with their roots to prevent topsoil erosion. Learn more about the important role of trees in coffee farming here..

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENA EFFENDI

COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE

Local farmers pay close attention as Sara holds another session on the slopes. The agroforestry programme isn’t just about showing farmers which trees to plant and where; it’s ongoing educational support designed to equip growers with the knowledge to help them protect their crops and circumvent the impacts of climate change.

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENA EFFENDI

DEMONSTRATING THE IMPORTANCE OF TREES

During the programme, locals and farmers alike plant tree saplings on the demonstration coffee field so that others can see and practice techniques like planting and placement for their own farms. These barrier plants will boost biodiversity, which naturally keeps the soil fertilized and shields it from being washed away, something that’s been a recurring problem in the area. At the time of writing, 752,132 trees have been planted through the Nespresso AAA programme on farms all across Jalapa.

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENA EFFENDI

FLAVOUR OF THE SUN

Growing quality coffee cherries is only the first step in producing coffee good enough to be enjoyed around the world; processing is equally important. Once the fresh beans are removed from the protective flesh of their cherries, they’re spread out on the patio of the wet mill, as sun-drying is still one of the best ways to enhance flavour profiles in the beans while preserving their quality.

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENA EFFENDI

RESTORING THE NATURAL BALANCE

Jalapa’s mountain slopes are teeming with a diverse range of life, and it’s this delicately balanced ecosystem that ensures a sustainable way of growing coffee. Previous farming methods of clearing land and overworking fertile soil broke this natural cycle, leaving the area diminished and vulnerable to adverse weather. But now farmers are learning how to insert themselves into this ecosystem—implementing techniques that let them live and farm without impacting the landscape. More coffee stories here.

PHOTOGRAPH BY RENA EFFENDI

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