Tradition Vs. New Needs: Agronomists’ Role in Sustainable Coffee Production

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Behind every cup of coffee there are the farmers and the agronomists tasked with cultivating the crop.

Their skills and their work are of fundamental importance to the coffee industry, and some companies want to recognize the roles these people play by honoring their achievements. For instance, Nespresso, the company behind the popular coffee capsules and brewing machines, launched the AAA Sustainable Quality Program in 2003, partnering with the Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit that awards product certification for sustainable livelihood and biodiversity protection. The program employs agronomists to advise farmers on sustainable cultivation methods.

In October of this year, eight farmers from around the world, accompanied by agronomists, were honoured for their exceptional achievements in the AAA programme at a week-long visit to Switzerland and to Nespresso’s headquarters.

The farmers generally possess a wealth of knowledge and experiences that have been passed down through generations. The young agronomists, on the other hand, have been educated on the needs of the new millennium and are open to the concept of sustainability, which they strive to pass on to the farmers. This combination ensures the potential for strong, fruitful collaborations that favor sustainability.

Aveen Deep R., an Indian farmer, grows his coffee in the shade, alongside other crops and spices. He says this environmentally friendly practice also adds a special flavor to the coffee. 

Photo courtesy of Nespresso.

Aveen Deep R., an Indian farmer, grows his coffee in the shade, alongside other crops and spices. He says this environmentally friendly practice also adds a special flavor to the coffee. 

“I wanted my coffee to be recognized and had a long-term perspective in mind,” said Aveen Deep R., a farmer from India. His ambition, as well as his conviction that his coffee had what it takes to compete internationally, was key to expanding into the export market.

Agronomists can help farmers like Aveen succeed while making sustainable choices. These choices can help them meet immediate local needs, such as Aveen’s concern that “because of climate change, we’ve had extreme temperatures and heavy rainfall,” undesirable weather conditions that can cause serious damage to crops. The sustainable choices that the farmers make today will also address more long-term and global concerns, such as environmental security for future generations.

The new breed of agronomists can be remarkably successful in convincing farmers to implement sustainable ideas for a more positive production cycle. Quite a few of them mentioned trust as an absolutely necessary component, but patience, incentives and proper educational strategies also figure into achieving that result. Christian Soto Zapata, a young Colombian agronomist, said that “you can teach them by treating them well and showing that indeed there are good reasons” to choose sustainable farming methods.

Emilia Umana, an agronomist from Costa Rica, celebrated her birthday with colleagues and farmers during the group’s visit to Switzerland.

Pro Journo / Seda Kojovan

Emilia Umana, an agronomist from Costa Rica, celebrated her birthday with colleagues and farmers during the group’s visit to Switzerland 

Charisma, kindness and expertise are three traits that agronomists share, as they facilitate successful communication with farmers. And, of course, the farmers and agronomists in the exuded passion for growing coffee, for one reason or another, no matter where they came from. While Zapata stressed that “in Colombia, we have a coffee culture. We love coffee!,” for Emilia Umana coffee production in Costa Rica is firmly embedded in “tradition and loyalty. When you see, for example, how your parents put you through school with it.”

Brazilian coffee production was represented at the event by Vinicius Scarpa and Antonio Marcio P.C. and his wife, Monica. Over time, agronomists develop a friendly relationship with the farmers and get to know them and their families quite well. Addressing the gender imbalances in farming, Scarpa remarked that women are in fact very important, often taking care of the financial side. In this family business, Monica “really pushed her man forward” to achieve more than he thought was possible, Scarpa said.

Agronomist Vinicius Scarpa, left, and farmer Antonio Marcio P.C.

Photo courtesy of Nespresso.

Agronomist Vinicius Scarpa, left, and farmer Antonio Marcio P.C.

The most inspiring story about the collaboration between farmers and agronomists came from Francisco Valverde, a young agronomist from Costa Rica. He said that one of his most rewarding moments occurred when a farmer, having been briefed on the importance of environmental protection, suddenly volunteered to be even stricter with himself than was required. “When we suggested a natural product that he could use on his plants, the farmer protested that it would be bad for the organisms in the soil,” said Valverde proudly.

If this kind mentality becomes the norm, and agronomists continue to find ways to be respectful toward farmers while introducing new methods to address the new challenges in coffee production, not just the future but the present as well may look more sustainable than ever.

To ensure the continued success of the AAA Sustainable Quality Program, agronomist Francisco Valverde (middle), other agronomists, farmers and Nespresso employees will have to keep building upon their shared passion for coffee while holding themselves accountable to rigorous standards.

Photo courtesy of Nespresso

To ensure the continued success of the AAA Sustainable Quality Program, agronomist Francisco Valverde (middle), other agronomists, farmers and Nespresso employees will have to keep building upon their shared passion for coffee while holding themselves accountable to rigorous standards.

This series on sustainable coffee production is sponsored by Nespresso. Featured image source: flickr / CIAT under Creative Commons.

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