Lith explains that the study confirmed carbon-neutral coffee was already being produced at La Prosperidad de Chirinos. Effectively, this means that some plants that actually captured as much CO2 as they were “responsible” for emitting throughout the supply chain. This was a major discovery during the study. One of the key reasons for this was the distribution of agroforestry systems. Agroforestry is the practice of growing crops among shade trees in the same area of land. In these systems, sampled coffee plants at La Prosperidad de Chirinos captured between 16.90 and 21.63 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year (tC/ha). However, where these plants were grown under shade, the shade trees they were grown among also contributed to carbon sequestration.
The same study found that while the figure varied heavily, the shade trees were able to capture between 27.90 and 257.80 tC/ha per year each – far more than the coffee plants alone. While coffee production has historically been associated with deforestation in certain parts of the world, this study indicates that shade grown coffee can offer a number of benefits for producers who want to minimise their carbon footprint.
Mariela Wismann is the Director of Rikolto’s Latin American Coffee Program. "Organisations are realising that the practice of 'clearing' the plots of trees (logging) has a high environmental cost,” she says.
“Now you have to get used to reforestation.” Alexis Dueñas is a professor at PUCP and a member of the investigation team. “Knowing how to choose the species and number of shade trees for the plot has a triple impact,” he says. “[It impacts] carbon capture, the environment, and the income of the producers.”
As well as pointing to a sustainable future option through agroforestry production systems, this can also help producers to differentiate their coffees for buyers. For instance, carbon-neutral organic coffees grown in agroforestry systems could support producers in regions where cup scores might generally be lower than other producing areas.
Lith tells me that in Peru, these areas include Central Selva, Junín, and Pasco, among other regions. She says that producers from these areas can benefit from alternative market opportunities such as selling carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative coffee. These will be more attractive to roasters looking to meet the consumer demand for environmentally sustainable products.