Isabel María Chávez Quesada and her husband Freddy
Rising to the sustainable quality challenge
Isabel María Chávez Quesada and her husband Freddy Jinesta Valverde initially dismissed the idea of participating in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. “At first we thought that it was aimed at larger farms that can make bigger investments because of their higher output. We thought it would be too difficult to meet all of the program’s requirements, and also too costly,” said Isabel María. But when a representative from the coffee supplier Volcafe invited them to an information session about the program, they decided to learn more.
It was the combination of environmental and social aspects covered by the AAA Program that convinced the couple to join in 2007. “We wanted to farm in as environmentally friendly a way as possible, without harming the natural world. The health aspect was very important to us, as we felt we had been using a lot of agrochemicals. We were also very attracted to the social side, since it is our family’s principle to always try to act fairly and care about people, especially the harvesters, since these people are in need of the greatest help,” Isabel María explained.
“When we saw that the agronomists in the AAA Program were willing to help us develop in these areas, little by little, we accepted the challenge. So far we have had good results.”
Upholding biodiversity through coffee farming
At 51, Isabel María has been running her family’s farm for the last 10 years. Her husband Freddy, seven years her senior and a retired university administrator, does most of the work on the farm. Isabel Maria helps out occasionally, along with temporary workers who assist with the harvest.
The AAA Program has shown us that agricultural, social and environmental responsibility go hand-in-hand in coffee growing.
La Loma farm is surrounded by a stunning mountainous landscape rich in biodiversity near the Poás volcano, one of Costa Rica’s seven active volcanoes. About two-thirds of the farm is dedicated to growing coffee – mostly Red and Yellow Catuai – with fruit trees for shade as well as sustenance, including banana trees, mandarins, naranjillas, star fruit and guava. The remainder of the farm is forest, with the Platanillo River passing through it. This includes a biological corridor that Isabel María and Freddy have maintained since joining the AAA Program. “We are taking the best possible care to preserve this natural beauty for future generations,” says Isabel María proudly.
An agricultural, environmental and social responsibility
When asked about what she has learned from participating in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, Isabel María’s list is long, ranging from improving farm organisation and safety, to soil analysis and recycling.
“The AAA Program has shown us that agricultural, social and environmental responsibility go hand-in-hand in coffee growing,” she says. “It has helped us to improve our productivity, which gives me more time for my family, and to improve the quality of our coffee so that our income has risen. This has helped us to provide an education for our children. And we can pay our harvesters more. It is important to us that they feel their hard work is rewarded.”
- Name: Isabel María Chávez Quesada
- Age: 51
- Farm: La Loma
- Location: Carrillos Alto de Poás, Santo Domingo, Costa Rica
- Size of farm: 3.6 hectares
- Joined the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program: 2007
Isabel María is happy to note the visible changes since she and her husband put environmental controls into place. “Through the AAA Program we have planted more trees. Not only do they provide us with fruit to eat, they have attracted more birds. We now see exotic birds like golden orioles, toucans and chachalacas, who lay their eggs in the caña india that we grow as living fences to prevent soil erosion along the Platanillo River that runs through our farm.”
Change, however, has not always come easy, she admits: “We coffee farmers come from a background of some very deeply-rooted customs, and it can be hard to accept changes and the responsibilities these entail.”
Still, she encourages other coffee growers to embrace the principles of sustainable quality that underlie the AAA Program. “This is the future of agriculture: optimizing production while focusing on good environmental, social and farming practices.”