DefinitionDevising project idea, defining the aim and main components
DesignSpecifying details such as time-frame, budget, target indicators, project partners and relevant steps to reach the project objectives
FinancingSearching and securing funding and investment, setting up relevant financing partnerships, and discussing payment modalities
ImplementationExecution of feasibility studies, context analysis, plot design, planting and setting up facilities and starting with potential capacity-building
MaintenanceOperational phase (monitoring and evaluation, impact assessments and adjustments, execution of educational programmes and long-term capacity building)
The Brazilian coffee company Tropicália has the goal to empower local coffee producers through a specific agroforestry design, which can be a world-wide alternative for the traditional monoculture paradox. More complex structures are capable of mitigating the agronomic, environmental and economic pressures that are the main hazards for coffee growers nowadays. Introducing specific crops with beneficial interactions in a mechanized system will result in short, medium and long-term gains regarding the farm’s economy and ecological value.
Coffee challenges in Minas Gerais
Decades of coffee price deflation are highlighting the weakness of traditional production methods based on conventional one-crop approaches. The systems were created to produce maximum yields in suitable and predictable conditions.
However, climate change is now exposing the vulnerability of these systems. In Minas Gerais, warmer temperatures and intensified dry periods massively impact the productivity of the coffea plants reducing yields. Coffee monocultures are not capable of cushioning such impacts.
These systems are reliant on agrochemical inputs such as synthetic fertilizers which base on fossil fuels, thus, contributing to climate change. However, they cannot make of for the damage of global warming. The result is a collapse in coffee yields which – next to decreasing prices – threatens farmer livelihoods.
A looming threat: Coffee rust
Another problem faced by coffee monocultures is the so-called coffee rust – a disease. It is a fungus – officially called Hemileia vastatrix – that is already plaguing coffee farmers for more than a century. In 2012, there was another major outbreak in Latin America driving coffee prices to an all time high.
When affected by the fungus, the coffee plant’s leaves turn from green into a brown or yellow color. The shrub eventually loses its leaves and with them the ability to produce coffee beans.
Unfortunately, coffee rust is also prevalent in all Brazil hampering coffee production. Monocultures are particularly vulnerable to it as the systems have no biological pest control, for example through other living organisms who fight the fungus. The only cure is expensive fungicides which have to be reapplied on a regular basis increasing the costs for the farmer.
Unleashing the potential of coffee agroforestry
Together with Tropicália and agroforestry expert Ricardo Chacón Bosch, reNature has set up a pilot plot – our Model Farm – to show that coffee can be done in a different way. Located in a highly visible spot on the top of a hillside, it serves as an example for best practices showcasing the benefits of agroforestry for coffee cultivation.
Farmers are educated to take on the new approach themselves and pass on the knowledge to surrounding farmers. The objective is to empower local coffee growers in Tropicália’s network by introducing the benefits of agroforestry into their production systems. On 1.2 ha, the project visualizes how agroforestry can improve yields, increase the system’s resilience, and reduce input costs.
To increase impact and scale up the approach, reNature will initiate a Model School. This educational facility will enable capacity-building for the other farmers in the area. It will utilize the existing Model Farm to enable hands-on learning experiences – farmers learn best when they can visualize a system.
This way, the project will reach out to the remaining 1,000 coffee farmers in the area. The idea is to provide sustainable economic opportunities not only for the current farming generation – their average age is 56 – but also for the youth. Young people increasingly leave to search for work in the cities as they lose faith in the profitability of farming.
Boosting farmer well-being
Tropicália’s new system is characterized by diversity. Instead of only growing coffee, farmers have planted a number of other plants providing them with additional edible or non-edible produce.
Next to the coffea plants – producing the favorable Arabica coffee beans – the system includes a banana variety, mahogany, macadamia as well as a variety of cover crop species protecting the soil. It will produce a number of commodities such as timber and valuable macadamia nuts which can be sold to local market or used for subsistence practices.
This way, new markets are created locally benefiting people beyond the project boundaries. Food availability is increased, whilst farmers profit from diversified income streams. This also strengthens their economic resilience.
Despite the lower number of coffea plants, the farm is expected to yield more than an equivalent monoculture farm. Agroforestry has proven to have an astonishing effect on coffee productivity and can increase yields by to a 100%.
increase in yields
This project centers around an important but often neglected aspect in farming: biodiversity. A system was designed including five main components: soil covering species, fast growing shadow, coffee, and two shadow perennial species.
The combination of these species creates beneficial biological interactions that stimulate and preserves the presence of helpful microorganisms, insects, fungi, and animals. These enhance soil fertility, and structure and imply a natural pest control mechanism.
Living organisms can keep harmful species, diseases, or fungi – such as the leaf rust disease – in check. Within coffee systems, bacteria such as Bacillus and Pseudomonas have shown to be effective in fighting leaf rust. They imply a low-cost solution that can be applied immediately.
Crop diversification also reduces the need for fossil-fuel-based agrochemicals while benefiting plant and animal life in the area. As the amount of biomass is increased in agroforestry systems, they can store carbon much better than conventional systems. Thus, they play an active role in the mitigation of climate change.