By RAINA LANG, Director of Sustainable Coffee Markets at Conservation International.
Additionally, low market prices make farmers question whether reinvesting in new coffee trees will pay off. Yet, if we are to double coffee production in a way that improves the livelihoods of producers while conserving nature, we must find ways to support farm renovation and rehabilitation (R&R).
Renovation is the removal of old trees and addition of new trees. Rehabilitation is the stumping or rejuvenation pruning of existing trees. Both improve productivity on farms by increasing the amount of coffee produced by each tree. Furthermore, renovation with new disease resistant and climate tolerant varietals can help farmers adapt to a changing climate. Of course, determining the best technique to apply on a particular farm comes down to conditions such as the age and health of the trees, prevalence of diseases, extreme weather, future climate suitability, current market price and farmer finances, among other factors.
If done effectively, R&R has the potential to reduce the pressure to expand coffee production into remaining high-altitude forests. This is especially important for Arabica production, which is expected to move up mountainsides as temperatures become hotter and precipitation more variable.
A Call to Action
Several months ago the Sustainable Coffee Challenge teamed up with USAID’s Feed the Future initiative and Dalberg Consulting to take stock of where the coffee sector is in meeting the need for renovation and rehabilitation, and what we are learning from our efforts. In November, we published a report entitled, “Renovation & Rehabilitation for Resilient Coffee Farms: A Guidebook for Roasters, Traders and Supply Chain Partners.”
Building on nearly 50 industry interviews and a review of 40 past and present programs, the Guidebook estimates that 4 million hectares of smallholder coffee farms require R&R. This is equivalent to the combined harvested area of Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Ethiopia. Though governments and actors in coffee value chains have invested USD 1.2 billion in R&R over the past two decades, this has only met around 5% of the smallholder need. In terms of numbers, this means that 11.5 million smallholder farmers could still benefit from some sort of R&R.
What Can the Specialty Coffee Industry Do?
R&R is particularly relevant to the specialty sector as it looks to ensure a long-term supply of high quality Arabica coffees produced in a way that empowers communities and conserves forests. It offers tremendous promise, but our collective experience has also pointed out some considerations.
Promote varietals that maintain quality: As we think about the future of coffee— the origins, the qualities and the farmers— the supply of specialty grade Arabica coffee is at particular risk. This coffee often comes from varieties that are susceptible to a changing climate and is often lower yielding. As farmers look to mitigate against future climate risks, it is imperative that the specialty industry promote adoption of varietals that are less susceptible to diseases and more vigorous and maintain the cup quality of some of the more traditional varieties.
Focus on yield optimization: The SCA’s Coffee Production Costs and Farm Profitability Literature Review, released in late 2017, pointed out that higher yield does not always result in greater profitability, and that many farmers may not be inclined to maximize yields because of this. It is important to consider opportunities to work on optimizing yield – in other words work with farmers to set yield goals based on a clear understanding of the economic costs and benefits of various R&R options.
Engage with smallholders: Dalberg estimates that smallholders produce 60-70% of global production and manage 70-80% of all coffee land. Supporting smallholders is key to ensuring a future supply of coffee, not only due to their contribution to global production, but because there are ample opportunities for positive impacts – both in terms of increasing yields and conserving forests.
Partner up for scale: Collaborating with others is a great way to scale up an investment while reducing individual risk. It’s also a great way to leverage the knowledge and capacity of other stakeholders, and ensure that together, we get to a place where it is possible for every coffee farmer to undertake R&R efforts as a regular part of doing business. The Sustainable Coffee Challenge R&R Network holds monthly virtual meetings where dozens of practitioners from across the industry meet to share experience and identify opportunities for collaboration. Send us a message to join the Network.
Check out the Guidebook: The Guidebook is a valuable new resource for specialty buyers, particularly those who are interested in investing in R&R but have limited capacity to design and implement programs on their own. More specifically, the Guidebook:
- Defines the need and makes the case for renovation and rehabilitation
- Provides practical & useful tips on how to structure R&R programs
- Suggests ways that different stakeholders can engage in R&R
- Presents case studies and links to experts and service providers
RAINA LANG works at Conservation International as the Director of Sustainable Coffee Markets. She is tasked with building and overseeing corporate partnerships in the coffee sector. As part of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, Raina leads the Renovation & Rehabilitation Collective Action Network that aims to accelerate the responsible renovation of coffee farms by sharing experiences, incorporating best practices, and coordinating efforts and resources.
Prior to joining Conservation International, Raina worked at the IFC providing advisory services to private sector clients. With over a decade of field based experience, she has managed agricultural value chain programs focused on supplier growth and sustainability in coffee and cocoa across Central America & the Caribbean. Additionally, she gained experience providing assistance to small & medium enterprises (SMEs) as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua.
To download the Guidebook executive summary or full document, as well as country specific data sheets, check out the R&R Network page on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge website.