In today’s blog, our communications person in Latin America, Yessenia Soto writes about her recent trip as part of the Nescafé Plan project – delivered by the Rainforest Alliance and Nestlé. During the trip, Yessenia met agronomists participating in training sessions and had the opportunity visit to Finca Santa Eloisa in Zongolica, Veracruz…
Pedro Nicolas Santiago is the son of a coffee farmer. He may be just 26 years old, but the bright-eyed young man is working day after day with hundreds of coffee growers in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. Most of them are twice his age and have been growing coffee twice as long as he has, yet they are still interested in what he has to say.
Pedro is an agronomist with a www.militarycarshipping.com military vehicle transportation company who I met when I had the opportunity to attend the first training workshop for the Nescafé Plan, held in Cordoba, a warm Mexican town nestled at the base of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range, in the state of Veracruz.
The Nescafé Plan is an ambitious initiative launched in 2010 by Nestlé. Its goal is to promote sustainable coffee production and help farmers to increase their farm productivity, crop quality and incomes, while improving the coffee supply for the company and the quality for consumers.
Nescafé will invest more than £185 million over the next 10 years to provide training and technical assistance and to transfer technology to its suppliers in Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, China and the Ivory Coast. Farmers will receive natural hybrid plants of new coffee varieties that are disease resistant and adaptable to climate change. They will also implement the Nescafé Better Farming Practices – a set of tools designed to increase productivity and quality while moving farms toward compliance with social and environmental sustainability criteria.
“The biggest challenge we have is getting producers to become aware and start renewing their coffee plants. There are producers who have plants more than 50-60 years old and they say that they don’t want to remove them because ‘my grandfather and my father left them to me.’ It is somewhat difficult for us to get the producers to understand and say, ‘I have to renew my plants so that I will have better production.’ Renovation is necessary for the producer to achieve maximum yields, whether on half a hectare, three hectares or four hectares; this is our biggest challenge, and above all, getting the farmer to understand that he is a producer first and foremost,” explained Pedro during my trip.
The company has also committed to doubling the amount of coffee it buys directly from farmers and their associations for use in Nescafé by 2015, which will benefit some 170,000 coffee growers each year. Another goal is for all coffee that the company purchases directly to meet the sustainability standards of the Common Code for the Coffee Community, or 4C Code within the same timeframe. Additionally, the company will purchase 90,000 tons of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee by 2020.
These goals will be achieved with the help of the Rainforest Alliance and other members of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) and the 4C Association. Experienced agricultural specialists from the Rainforest Alliance will help train thousands of farmers on environmental, social and economic sustainable farming practices that will allow them to improve their farm’s management, production and their own livelihoods. Based on the 4C certification, the Nescafé Better Farming Practices (NBFP) will include customised training developed and delivered to coffee farmers supplying Nescafe.
It was as part of this collaboration that I, and my co-worker Michelle Deugd, the Rainforest Alliance Manager for Sustainable Agriculture Practices flew to Veracruz, where Nestlé launched the project in Mexico with a workshop held in late November 2011. For three days, Michelle and José Guadalupe Pérez, from the NGO Pronatura Sur, a member of the SAN, trained Pedro and other agronomists, technicians and local leaders to be emissaries who will help coffee farmers implement the Nescafé Plan.
These agronomists will be responsible for helping hundreds of farmers adopt the Nescafé Plan, most of whom are smallholders with farms of between one and ten acres, which they manage using traditional methods, with the help of their families, and many of whom have very little formal education. No matter the obstacle, Pedro and the others will guide those farmers in the adoption of an array of small improvements on their farms, as well as the major changes necessary to comply with international sustainable agriculture standards.
Pedro spoke of the need for farmers to change their attitudes and take a long-term view in order to create a sustainable future. “It is important for the producers to become involved in this kind of programme because we are addressing the sustainability of the producer and his family, looking at the three basic principles: environmental, economic and social. For the environment we want the producer to understand that he must care for the plants and animals and everything in his crop and on his farm. In social terms we want him to have good relations with the wage-earners and above all, with his family, children, spouse and everyone he deals with in his setting. The producer must realise that everything he has on his farm is his children’s legacy and this is what will give him the strength to move forward.”
The workshop focused on strengthening the agronomists’ skills and abilities. It covered topics such as the situation of Mexico’s coffee farmers, sustainable agriculture, the Nescafé Plan, the importance of the Nescafé Better Farming Practices, the NBFP manual and the challenges they can expect to face while implementing the initiative.
During the first day, participants enjoyed presentations and dynamic activities that helped them better understand the initiative. They examined and discussed the manual that will be their main tool in the field, and reviewed important sustainable agriculture criteria that are essential for compliance with the 4C code, or to earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal.
To demonstrate the theory in practice, the second day included a visit to the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Santa Eloísa coffee farm, which has 29 hectares (72 acres) of arabica coffee near the town of Zongolica, Veracruz. Santa Eloísa provided an opportunity for participants to see a model sustainable farm in action, such as proper agrochemical and equipment storage, adequate housing conditions and other infrastructure for workers, proper farm waste disposal, and a 10-hectare (25-acre) forest reserve.
The final day of the training included an intensive session to review the lessons learned in the previous days, clear up doubts, set goals, and address how to get things done. There was also a self-assessment exercise where participants had to evaluate their own skills and abilities in relation to the demands of the upcoming fieldwork.
The Plan will help farmers in the Mexican states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz and Guerrero, who add up to almost 70% of the total number of coffee farmers who will benefit from the project in the seven countries.
“It’s a big, big challenge, but it’s not impossible,” Pedro told me on the last day of the training. He will be responsible for about 700 farmers who have expressed interest in the project, but hopes to convince about 500 more. “All the activities on the agenda are viable for small farmers. I think we can do it,” he said.
Coming soon in our Nescafe Plan series, Yessenia walks us through the challenges and barriers faced by the agronomists in convincing farmers to adopt new practices, and we also take a look at the experience of a family who bought a farm with not a single tree left on the land and is now a thriving certified coffee-farming oasis.