Generations working together for sustainable coffee

Coffee is one of Latin America’s most important agriculture sectors. For many small farmers it is their only source of income. But unsustainable growing methods risk damaging the complex ecology of the cloud forests of Peru and Bolivia. And coffee is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Both production and quality ars affected by variability in rainfall and temperature.

We are working with coffee producers to introduce innovative ecological farming methods and better marketing that will improve the quality of their coffee and increase their incomes.

Judit Gel Chinchay is vice president of the El Pindo committee of the Cenfrocafé cooperative. She has a keen desire to generate positive change for El Pindo's coffee farmers. Although their plots are only 15 years old and last year's production was not as good because of the weather, there is no doubting their tenacity. 

With Judit is a younger man called Manuel Silva Águila, son of one of the Cenfrocafé founders. They walk the fields together to check the irrigation channels and look out for pest and disease outbreaks. 

Judit is a traditional farmer and Manuel is a new ‘extensionist’ trained through Practical Action’s European Union funded Café Correcto project to help rehabilitate these coffee plantations. The generations are working together to ensure sustainability. Young people with technical expertise are working with more experienced farmers who have knowledge learned through trial and error.

Judit’s uses honey water insect traps (made from sap of a local plant), fumigates with natural products and makes compost to fertilise the coffee bushes, so she no longer has to buy expensive chemicals.  She expresses her feelings.

"I feel happy, because I feel like I'm going to learn more about how to manage my farm."

Manuel gives Judit plenty of good advice.

"Your compost needs to be mixed up and covered, because decomposition produces gases. You can also supplement it with nutrients such as phosphate, guano or potassium sulfate.  Coffee bushes need potassium and magnesium and by fertilising in this way you can triple your average production.”

He also has some suggestions on pruning. Judit’s coffee is only producing fruit in the tip, but if the underside of the bush could also develop fruits, she could increase her yield.  Manuel demonstrates delicate pruning to select the best shoots and guarantee new growth.

Summing up his feelings about the project, he says.

"I’m glad that I’m gaining experience, to share what I am learning with my parents, neighbours and every farmer we visit.  I give them advice to improve their production, their so that they can have a profitable farm." 

This initiative means that these coffee farming communities have younger, skilled labour to help them with modern technology and methods. Young people like Manuel no longer need to look to the cities for their opportunities but can find them at home within their cooperatives.  And Judit feels more positive about the long term future of her farm, and its benefits for generations to come.

Read the original story in Spanish

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