Sustainable cocoa and coffee

From deforestation to forest guardians: Cajamarca charts Peru’s path to carbon-neutral coffee production

February 28, 2024
Norka Peralta
Communications Consultant

Faced with growing demand from international markets that will soon require carbon-neutral coffee, the northern region of Peru is leading initiatives to produce coffee with a reduced environmental footprint. These efforts focus on growing coffee in agroforestry systems, conserving biodiversity and preserving forests. Learn how alliances generate greater income opportunities for producers in this article.

In the late 1990s, forest trees such as laurels, pines and eucalyptus began to be planted in the in the Cajamarca region for a variety of uses, from house construction to firewood.

From decimated forests to thriving farms

Coffee farmer Luis Villegas García (45) never got to know the native trees that abounded in the lower and middle part of the province of San Ignacio, in the Cajamarca region, where he was born more than four decades ago.

“When I was a child, my grandfather used to tell me about the forest, with its michinos and acerillos, two species native to the area. But by the time I grew up, there were few specimens left. All of it was cut down for agriculture – indiscriminate logging that led to the disappearance of deer, añujes, peccaries and birds, deprived of their habitat,” recalls Luis.

In the late 1990s, forest trees such as laurels, pines and eucalyptus began to be planted in the area for a variety of uses, from house construction to firewood. “Planting trees was our way of ensuring a continuous supply of timber,” says Luis, who now sees the same trees protecting the coffee plantations on his farm.

“Coffee should be grown in agroforestry systems. This makes sure that I can contribute to the environment and reduce my carbon footprint, because on my farm we capture CO₂ thanks to the presence of trees,” explains the coffee farmer.

His vision and commitment to the activity have been enriched by initiatives led by Rikolto and supported in the last three years by the Provincial Government of Flemish Brabant, the Flemish International Climate Action Programme and the US-Dutch company JDE Peet’s.

A global push for carbon-neutral coffee

Global trends towards sustainable coffee, zero deforestation and intelligent agroforestry systems not only protect forests but also reduce the carbon footprint associated with coffee production. Armando Inga, facilitator of the Cajamarca Coffee Multi-Stakeholder Platform (PMACC), points out: “With the effects of climate change and the increase of CO₂ in the atmosphere, there are opportunities for Cajamarca’s coffee. The foreign market appreciates coffees that are responsible and that limit or reduce CO₂ emissions, which is why initiatives to make Cajamarca coffee carbon-neutral have emerged recently.”

Over the last three years, Rikolto has been involved in some of these initiatives, such as measuring the environmental footprint of coffee, which is considered the starting point for understanding the impact that these industries have on the environment. Data availability makes it easier to make decisions and to implement the necessary adjustments in agricultural practices to make the industry carbon-neutral. This was acknowledged by the project Coffee & Climate, supported by the Provincial Government of Flemish Brabant from 2021 to 2022.

Producer Luis Villegas was part of the initial efforts to measure the environmental footprint of coffee. “Between August 2021 and September 2022, as a partner of the Unicafec cooperative, we were sent technicians who gathered information about our farms to measure our environmental footprint and determine where our work generated the most pollution,” recalls Luis.

Luis Villegas, coffee farmer who has integrated tree conservation and organic fertiliser production on his farm to reduce his carbon footprint.

This required a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of coffee on the farm, which entailed a study of the agronomic management of coffee. This means understanding how the crop is fertilised and irrigated, how pruning and pests are managed and what natural resources are consumed. “We study the emissions, solid waste and effluents that have been produced by the time the beans are harvested,” explains Isabel Quispe, an industrial engineer, researcher and professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) who led the research on measuring the carbon footprint. In this case, the production of organic green coffee was considered, as there were no emissions relating to agrochemicals.

Further results were disseminated through exchanges and workshops thanks to the More Coffee and Less CO2 (COCO2) project, funded by the Flemish International Climate Action Programme from 2022 to 2023. It was found that the critical points with the highest environmental impact in coffee production are concentrated in the so-called wet mill, where pulping takes place. This is mainly due to water consumption and the production of coffee pulp. The latter is a form of organic waste that emits methane, a greenhouse gas, and CO2 when it decomposes. It is estimated that 70–80% of the carbon footprint of coffee is generated in the wet mill.

Waste not, want not: making green gold with GAP

Following these results, coffee growers were recommended to use coffee pulp in the production of organic fertiliser to avoid its decomposition in the environment, and to treat honey water (the wastewater produced by the pulping and washing process) by filtering it through wells. By 2022, these and other environmentally friendly practices had been communicated to 300 producers from three cooperatives in Cajamarca (La Prosperidad de Chirinos, Aprocassi and Unicafec).

Since 2023, more good agricultural practices (GAPs), such as agroforestry systems, have been replicated in the region and are expected to be adopted by others. with the help of technological tools promoted thanks to the COCO2 project, which promoted climate change adaptation and mitigation policies and practices in the coffee sector in Ecuador and Peru.

By 2022, over 300 producers from three cooperatives in Cajamarca (La Prosperidad de Chirinos, Aprocassi and Unicafec) will have been shown how to use coffee pulp to produce organic fertiliser and other environmentally friendly practices.

In Cajamarca, the initiative used evidence of carbon sequestration to train and certify technicians and producers in GAP, Life Cycle Analysis and sustainable agroforestry production systems. The use of PromPerú's Calcafé, now a reference tool for calculating the environmental footprint of coffee in coffee organisations in seven regions (Cajamarca, Cusco, Junín, San Martín, Puno, Apurímac and Huánuco), was also part of the training for technicians. According to Jorge Barrientos Salinas, a specialist in Promperu's Sustainable Trade Department, this type of tool is essential for moving towards carbon-neutral markets under the European Union's regulatory framework to combat deforestation.

As part of this pathway, the project COCO2 built on evidence of carbon sequestration to promote sustainable agroforestry production systems, training and certifying technicians, coffee farmers and producer organisations in Ecuador and Peru.

Knowledge exchange and collaborative action in the EUDR context

The research component of COCO2 was led in Ecuador by the Escuela Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL). Based in Cajamarca’s experience and with the support of the PUCP, from Peru, they carried out a preliminary study of the carbon footprint based on methodologies of the environmental impact to be used and the review of the results. Field technicians and producers were also trained to calculate the environmental footprint of coffee on coffee farms in Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador.

Event to celebrate the completion of the COCO2 project in Palanda.

Rikolto and its allies seek to generate strategies and promote policies that will allow Peru and Ecuador to comply with international standards and environmentally friendly practices that will come into force in the European Union in the coming years. In Ecuador, Rikolto is already working on this new track with CREA project.

“There are regulations that set the tone in the coffee sector in relation to carbon neutrality. In addition, there is the European Green Deal, which aims to make the continent climate neutral by 2050, and the European Climate Law. The new EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) in the livestock, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, soy, rubber and timber sectors must be taken into account,” explains Napoleón Molina, of Rikolto.

Faced with these regulations, it is important that coffee-producing countries start to take action to secure their buyers, but complying with these regulations requires tools and training that small-scale producers cannot afford, according to Napoleón. It also requires an institutional framework. Traditional problems that have always affected the sector, such as access to finance, technical assistance and climate-smart practices that prevent deforestation and the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the face of low land productivity, must be corrected.

“One of the underlying causes of deforestation is the low productivity of the land, which is due to the lack of economic resources for investment in systems that would allow coffee farmers to produce more on the same land without having to move to forests or protected areas. If they don’t have a decent income, they won’t be able to maintain the forests”.

Napoleón Molina - Director of the coffee and cocoa programme of Rikolto in Latin America.

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This is a complex endeavour, but the first steps are already being taken, even in the private sector. “The industry needs to be more responsible in the countries where we buy the most raw material; in our case, we are interested in strengthening local capacities by setting up platforms where all coffee actors can converge and generate joint initiatives to improve productivity, quality and sustainability,” says Gina Canales, Green Coffee Sustainability Manager for Latin America at JDE Peet’s.

First sips of change

JDE Peet’s is the largest coffee importer in Europe and buys coffee from 135 countries, including Peru, where they are a partner of Rikolto and co-finance PMACC’s actions. In the framework of the project “Promoting Sustainable Coffee Growing”, they will promote actions for reducing the environmental footprint from 2024 to 2027, including strengthening the carbon-neutral coffee route they have already embarked on.

Cajamarca has begun to chart that path hand in hand with producers like Luis Villegas who only hope that their efforts to conserve their forests will be compensated. In the meantime, details are being finalised for what will be the roadmap that in the next two years will lead Cajamarca to make its first pilot exports of carbon-neutral coffee or coffee with minimal emissions.

The new European Union regulations have raised concerns among producers in Peru. However, this context could become an opportunity to raise public awareness, to strengthen the political debate and to implement solutions to historical demands (land titling, digital identity), coordinated from the different regional and national spaces in which Rikolto participates and promotes the conditions for professional organisations and a living income for producers.

COCO2 achievements:

  • In Peru, 44 technicians and producers in Cajamarca have been certified in the use of Life-Cycle Analysis. The training was supported by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP).
  • In Peru, multi-stakeholder spaces, such as the Cajamarca Coffee Multi-Stakeholder Platform and the Amazon Coffee Technical Roundtable, are being consolidated to promote solutions for sequestering carbon.
  • For Peru, the project produced a guide for the design and implementation of agroforestry system models based on the LCA methodology, a public technical document that calls for collective action to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, as part of a knowledge management and awareness strategy.
  • In Peru, the PMACC (facilitated by Rikolto) has formalised a dedicated multi-stakeholder committee for the co-creation of policies and strategies at the sub-national level. Three leading organisations, the National Service of Protected Natural Areas - SERNANP, the Cajamarca regional government and the Red Técnica del Norte cooperative, are preparing a roadmap for carbon-neutral coffee in the Cajamarca region.

Editors: Natalia Palomino - Communications for Latin America, Rikolto.

With the support from the Flemish government:

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