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How agroforestry can increase coffee farms' resilience to climate change

© Christian Lamontagne

On the occasion of World Environment Day, Tristan Lecomte, co-founder and president of Pur Projet, explains why climate change puts coffee farms at risk and how agroforestry, such as the Nespresso approach, can increase farms resilience to it.

What is at stake in global climate? How is it affecting coffee farmers?

Climate change materialises in extreme climatic events and storms. The harvests of small-scale coffee farmers are already directly affected by prolonged droughts and heavy rains. This happens more and more often, with major impacts on crops. Moreover, damages are increased when the ecosystem is already degraded: erosion, aridification, pollution and lack of biodiversity. Farms need to be regenerated and more diversified to increase their resilience and adaptation to these climatic changes.

This is key to deliver great quality coffee too. You need a rich, robust and diversified ecosystem to deliver a Grand Cru. Climate change comes from the excess of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Trees absorb and sequester CO2 and transforms it into oxygen, making them a perfect match to serve as "carbon sinks", and offset our climate footprint. You may already know this, and it is true: trees are a privileged way to balance human activities with nature.

Why and how can agroforestry be one of the solutions? What makes it relevant to coffee farmers and to coffee farms resilience to climate change?

Planting trees within and around the coffee fields helps protect the crops. Thanks to their canopy and rooting system, they reduce the impact of climate deregulations. They generate multiple benefits for these farmers and their ecosystem: natural soil enrichment with nitrogen and organic matter, erosion reduction, water depollution and regulation, biodiversity regeneration. Moreover, trees offer diversified sources of income to farmers: fruits, timber, fuelwood, medicines, and they value the land. High-valued tree species can serve as well as a "safety net" for farmers, to pay for schooling or medical fees. Some farmers refer to them as their "pension fund", as they plan to cut some of these trees when they retire to cover their expenses. We have listed more than 100 benefits of trees.

Trees are one of the best investments you can make on earth. They cost just a few euros and take only a few minutes to plant, but will generate multiple economic and ecosystem services (soil, water, biodiversity...) for many years, and for free. What else?

What is the agroforestry approach that you are working on with Nespresso?

© Christian Lamontagne

All agroforestry projects are fully designed and developed by the coffee farmers and their organisations. We assist them technically, but they choose and plant the trees, they maintain and monitor them, and also replant the ones that die. They plant only native or fruit trees and with diversity in varieties. They do not use any chemicals to fertilise the trees; on the contrary, the trees will actually nurture the soil.

We work at the landscape level. This means not only advising and helping the farmer to plant inside and around the coffee fields, but in the whole watershed that they depend upon. For example in Colombia, Guatemala and Ethiopia, we plant along water sources and streams and on slopes prone to landslides, upstream from the coffee fields. Trees intercropped within coffee fields provide the farmers with timber, fuelwood, fruits and medicine. They reinforce their farm resilience and revenues.

Nespresso is funding the whole program, with a very ambitious commitment to plant 10 million trees by 2020. This fosters multiple positive impacts on soil, water, biodiversity, farmer revenue, and of course on the quality of the coffees sourced for Nespresso Grands Crus. This vision is called The Positive Cup: a coffee that leaves no trace, except for taste and positive impacts in the coffee regions. We are proud to be onboard such an innovative and ambitious program.

Let's not forget as well that, anyway, coffee is a forest species. So it is entirely natural to bring trees back into coffee fields because that is where the coffee comes from: the forest. The Nespressoprogram is part of a global vision, not only to deliver Grands Crus, but also to have them produced on state-of-the-art agroforestry farms. This is both the future of agriculture and the original ecosystem of coffee.

You have introduced the concept of insetting. What is it? Why is it relevant to businesses?

What we like is that the Nespresso teams and partners are fully mobilised from fields to cups on multiple sustainability stakes via numerous complimentary projects within the Nespresso supply chain. Agroforestry is just one. It also includes sustainable farming methods, pension funds for farmers, water management programs, responsible aluminium sourcing, technical innovations at factories to reduce the dependencies on natural resources, and end-of-life management of capsule and machines. For each of those initiatives, the Nespresso approach is to go beyond compliance to deliver positive impacts and ultimately create shared value. The Agroforestry Program is one of the latest initiatives that definitely fit into this big picture. We at Pur Projet consider all these efforts in the concept of “insetting”.

Those efforts embed the idea of compensating the global social and environmental footprint of a company within its own value chain. Offsetting, on the other hand, usually refers to the compensation of a company's carbon footprint outside its value chain.

© Christian Lamontagne

We believe that insetting is a more powerful approach because businesses can change the system from within their own supply chains, core business and values. Furthermore, we feel it is a great way to shift climate strategies from the niche to the mainstream and to target multiple impacts beyond carbon. Nespresso has taken the lead with The Positive Cup vision, translating into a holistic 2020 sustainable plan supported by significant investment. We hope it will create a global movement for radical change among many more companies and governments. We need it, for the benefit of all.