Preventing a world without coffee

The Jalapa region, where some of Guatemala's best-quality coffee is grown, suffers from soil erosion, but an agroforestry programme is helping farmers secure their future and the world’s supply of quality coffee.

By Jack Neighbour
Published 6 May 2020, 16:34 BST
How agroforestry helps to ensure the future of coffee in Guatemala

We may love coffee but, according to a 2019 study, our morning cup could be on the brink. Scientists at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens claim that conditions like deforestation, pests and pathogens could see 60 per cent of all wild coffee species perish within the next few decades. Climate change alone could cut land suitable for Arabica production in half by 2050.

Nespresso wants to make sure none of this comes to fruition. That’s why they’ve created the AAA Sustainable Quality programme to help farmers in prime coffee growing regions make their smallholdings more resilient to climate change. One of the ways it’s doing so is with trees, which are key to the future of not only high-quality coffee but the valuable heritage of the cultures that grow it.

Through an agroforestry initiative, farmers are protecting their plantations with ‘barrier trees’ — non-coffee species that ...

Through an agroforestry initiative, farmers are protecting their plantations with ‘barrier trees’ — non-coffee species that provide shade, nourish the soil and shield the delicate crops from adverse weather conditions. As of 2019, 752,132 barrier trees have been planted.

Photograph by Rena Effendi

By 2020, Nespresso plans to plant five million trees in Colombia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Nicaragua through in setting – an agroforestry practice that balances a business’s carbon emissions by planting trees within its supply chain. The in setting process, implemented by forestry partner PUR Projet, goes beyond accounting for a company’s emissions to restore local ecosystems and help build sustainability.

Over decades, increasingly turbulent weather conditions in these regions have caused their natural tree cover to disappear; taking soil-nourishing nutrients and wildlife that fortified the land with it. But, by planting the right kinds of saplings on their high-altitude mountain slopes, smallholders like Willy Solares Aguilar of Jalapa, Guatemala are nurturing biodiversity back into full swing. 

As part of their training, locals and farmers alike plant tree saplings on a demonstration coffee ...

As part of their training, locals and farmers alike plant tree saplings on a demonstration coffee field. These barrier trees will help prevent soil erosion, which is a recurring problem in the area

Photograph by Rena Effendi

“The trees are a new beginning for us,” Don Willy says, “Birds and wildlife have come back to my farm. Nespresso is teaching us to protect the planet. I’m sure my family and I will be producing coffee for years to come.”

Since 2014, Don Willy has been working closely with Nespresso agronomists to understand how the trees he’s planting secure his coffee’s future by enriching the soil and protecting against extreme weather. But, as a lucrative additional benefit, they’ll also provide Don Willy and his wife Maria an additional income from the fruit, timber and fuelwood they’ll produce.

Jalapa, Guatemala
The aftermath of a landslide. Barrier trees don’t just protect coffee plants and their soil from the weather, their roots mesh to hold the hilly landscape together. Without them the earth is loose and vulnerable to collapse.

Passionate about preserving their region’s rich coffee culture, forward thinking farmers like Don Willy are integral in encouraging other growers to adopt Nespresso’s sustainable agroforestry practices. After all, it’s these techniques that will help them ensure that their heritage, and the world’s coffee supply, prospers for generations to come.

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