For the Yanesha, an indigenous group living in Ñagazú, Peru, the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices has meant increased incomes, greater environmental stewardship and enhanced opportunities for local children.
“I’m happy because we’ve been able to improve our [living] conditions and protect the environment,” explains Jesusa Co- lina, who owns 74 acres (30 hectares) on the eastern slope of the Andes, in the central Peruvian region of Junín. She grows coffee on 15 acres (6 hectares) and leaves the remaining 59 acres (23 hectares) of her land covered with lush tropical forest.
Sowing the Seeds for a Sustainable Future
Since 2005, Colina and 37 other farmers in Ñagazú have been working to improve the quality of their coffee and their approach to natural resource management with the help of a project financed by the Italian coffee roaster Lavazza. Together with the local NGO Ecoselva and the export seo services uk company Volcafe, Lavazza has helped local farmers to form an association, improve the quality of their coffee and earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal.
Awarded to farms that meet the rigorous certification standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network – a coalition of conservation NGOs based in the tropics – the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal is a symbol of sustainability. It gives consumers the option of buying coffee and other products that are grown in a way that protects the rainforest and its inhabitants, while providing communities with important social and economic benefits.
A Community Revitalised
“We are in the process of improving our lives,” says Colina, who, prior to Rainforest Alliance certification, sold coffee to a middleman who paid poorly. Now the farmers association, of which she is a member, sells coffee directly to an exporter and guarantees the quality of the beans.
“During the years that we depended on middlemen, I sometimes didn’t have enough money to buy clothes or school supplies for my five children,” Colina reflects. With the help of a donation from Lavazza, the community has created a credit fund that makes small loans to members for the purchase of school supplies at the beginning of each academic year. “Children used to have to go to school without a uniform, or maybe with just one notebook. Now they all have shoes and uniforms, and they go to school with all the supplies they need.”
Certification has also meant much needed infrastructure improvements. When Colina was a child, there was no road to Ñagazú (located in Junin, central part of Peru) and her father had to hike all day with a sack of coffee on his back to the town of Paucartambo (located in the Cusco region of Peru, which borders the Junín region) in order to sell his crop and buy food and clothes. Now the farmers’ association has a pickup truck, which they use to transport coffee from their farms to the association mill (built, along with a coffee drier, with funds from Lavazza) and to take dry beans to the market.
To ensure the highest quality crop, members now harvest only ripe coffee fruit. They also utilise soil conservation measures, organic fertiliser and prune coffee plants every three years – all of which have helped to increase production. “Five years ago, I harvested between 19 and 24 sacks per acre, I now produce between 48 and 60 sacks per acre,”says Colina.
The combination of larger harvests and better prices has resulted in a higher standard of living for the association’s members. “Now there is a sense of pride in the community, because there is development and improvement,” Colina observes. “This is the result of years of teamwork.”
Hard Work Pays Off
“In the beginning, it wasn’t easy, because we had to work hard to get certified, but now I’m very happy to have achieved so many things,” she says. Improvements such as latrines and garbage collection have created a healthier environment for children, and the construction of chimneys for wood stoves – a requirement for certification – has resulted in fewer respiratory illnesses.
“There have been improvements in health and education here. Our children are the biggest beneficiaries, because we invest the money we are earning in their education, their health and a better diet,” Colina notes.
Certification has had a comparably positive impact on the environment. Farmers used to plant coffee next to streams, but now they conserve the natural vegetation along these waterways. They’ve also reduced hunting in the area, planted more than 30,000 trees, and begun composting and recycling waste. And thanks to an environmental education programme at the local school, children are increasingly aware of ecological issues.
“Our children are involved in what we do,” Colina says. “They now have another idea of how they should live. They don’t throw trash in the rivers and they protect the environment. They understand that it is important to plant a tree.”