Sustainable cocoa and coffee

Transforming cocoa and coffee in Latin America: the sustainable impact of multi-stakeholder partnerships

July 16, 2023
Natalia Palomino
Comunicación y gestión de fondos | Perú y Ecuador

Over the past five years, Rikolto has taken on the challenge of supporting the creation of multi-stakeholder spaces within cocoa and coffee producing landscapes. These spaces take various forms, such as national or regional platforms and working groups to promote dialogue among different stakeholders. We facilitate the establishment of these spaces so that actors with often antagonistic or very different agendas can come together to find common ground or understanding on different issues affecting the sustainability of the food system within a particular region or country.

In Latin America, the coffee and cocoa sectors face similar challenges. By expanding the group of actors within a sector or the food system as a whole, we can promote commitments on essential issues such as gender inclusion, knowledge management, climate change, inclusive business practices, and decent incomes. Rikolto's role is often to facilitate these conversations and promote actionable solutions that benefit everyone involved.

Honduras: Gender Policy comes to life in the coffee sector

In Honduras, the playing field is not level for women who choose to work in coffee: women are less likely to own land, have fewer economic resources and have less access to education than male producers. Closing this gender gap requires unique solutions adapted to the realities of the country. Thanks to the Coffee Gender Policy, change in the sector is imminent through a comprehensive approach to gender and youth.

In 2019, Rikolto, Solidaridad and CONACAFÉ made an alliance as members of the Platform for Sustainable Coffee in Honduras in order to promote this public policy. We convened sector actors to share what was being done, and provided technical and financial support to update the national policy. As members of the Platform for Sustainable Coffee in Honduras, we held socialisation workshops within the sector, including companies, and incorporated all their comments into the policy. The result was a Coffee Gender Policy, unique among producing countries, which was launched in 2021. The gender policy will be used to economically empower and enhance inclusion for about 19,000 female coffee farmers in Honduras.

AMUCAFE (International Women's Coffee Alliance, or IWCA) was closely involved in the policy development process, bringing the voice of women coffee farmers to the table. Its ambition is to bring these dialogues on coffee and gender to younger women, empowering them to become active participants in the coffee sector.

"I feel that (the policy) marked a before and after, because it was difficult to know how to contribute to closing the gender gap if we didn't know the situation and needs." Orieta Pinto, Chair of the AMUCAFÉ Board of Directors
Workshop for the validation of the strategy (credit: AMUCAFE)

The first step in implementing the changes sought by the policy is for everyone to understand them. In 2022, a popular version was drafted and edited with the coordination, technical and financial support of the Government of the Republic of Honduras through CONACAFE, IHCAFE, AMUCAFE, Solidaridad and Rikolto.

Now, in 2023, the policy is part of AMUCAFE’s socialisation days in Marcalá, El Paraíso, Santa Bárbara, Copán, Cortés, Montecillos and Olancho. Nearly 300 people have been participating, virtually or in person, in the workshops, most of them are women and producers. AMUCAFÉ presents the strategic lines of the policy, to promote gender equity as a principle and practice in the Honduran coffee sector. The aim is to replicate these discussions with private companies, producer organisations and coffee producers.

SICACAO: sharing cocoa knowledge across Central America and the Dominican Republic

In Central America, all governments have recognised the potential of cocoa to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers within the region. In response to global demands, they have included cocoa as one of their strategic agricultural and agro-industrial priorities. Under this scenario, in 2017 SICACAO was born. SICACAO is a platform consisting of public and private stakeholders and represents all the national cocoa multi-stakeholder spaces (national committees, technical roundtables, national commissions…) in the member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA). Rikolto is the platform’s facilitator. It contributes to structuring regional dialogue, building partnerships and promoting knowledge exchanges between countries.

In 2021, with the support of the Executive Secretariat of the Central American Agricultural Council (SECAC) and all stakeholders involved in SICACAO, Rikolto coordinated the development of the Regional Cocoa Strategy. It was approved by the Ministries of Agriculture of the 8 Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

At the end of 2022, SICACAO had three major achievements to celebrate: it began to implement the new strategy; it created a sustainability plan that will allow it to move towards impacts that sustain in time; and it supported and financed a diagnosis as a precondition for a participatory gender strategy for the cocoa value chain in 8 countries of the region. However, the main achievement has been the formation of a community of practice for exchanges and learning.

SICACAO's "jornada centroamericana" event in presence of ministers and COSUDE representatives

The 8 member countries of SICACAO have benefited from the Central American Cocoa Value Chain Knowledge Management Project, under the leadership of Rikolto and with funding from COSUDE. The alliance has also participated in national platforms that have been the basis for SICACAO, such as the National Cocoa Committee in Honduras or COMCACAO. Through SICACAO and the national platforms, Rikolto has socialised systematisations of thematic experiences, validated by the actors themselves, and created a specialised repository on various topics including agroforestry systems.

In addition, five cocoa management apps and tools created by the Climate-Smart Cocoa alliance (CIAT, World Cacao Foundation, Alianza Cacao El Salvador and Rikolto/COSUDE) have been created and made available, facilitating access to information for any cocoa-growing area on: temperature, current and projected 30 and 50-year climate suitability, climate impact on the area, and recommended practices in relation to the impacts of climate change; as well as the profitability of agroforestry systems.

Since 2019, together with actors from the SICA region, Rikolto has facilitated the formation of a Community of Practice on Inclusive Business Models and Agroforestry Systems. After two years of work and experience, in 2022 it elaborated a new strategy that defines priority thematic strategic groups of the cocoa value chain in the region. As of 2023, the community of practice has a new approach to address issues of interest to multiple stakeholders in the SICA region.

"We are working on a business vision for SICACAO (...) The platform has an incredible potential to generate relationships. As a first result, we see a Central American and Caribbean network of cocoa trading companies. Companies are interested. They could be integrated so that good business practices can expand.” Santos Hernández, Rikolto project advisor for "Knowledge Management in the Cocoa Value Chain

In addition to the network of cocoa trading companies, we also aim to create a regional network of cocoa producers so that alliances can be formed between partner organisations from different countries - and good practices can be shared.

A platform in search of prosperity for coffee in Cajamarca, Peru

Coffee is grown in more than 16 regions in Peru, but one region alone accounts for 20% of national production. That region is Cajamarca, which is also the world's leading producer of organic coffee. This news came in 2022, a good year for the Cajamarca Coffee Multi-Stakeholder Platform (PMACC), which aims to turn the coffee sector of the region into a national and international benchmark.

Launched in March 2020 under the leadership of Rikolto, the Northern Technical Network and the regional government of Cajamarca through the Regional Technical Coffee Commission, the initiative grew and matured in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. At its inception, the platform gathered 15 organisations; today it brings together 24 organisations, mainly government programmes and agencies, as well as producer and chain support organisations.

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It is the first space of its kind in Peru that seeks to consolidate the coffee sector agenda in a region, to pool resources from different projects, and guide actions to attract public and private investment for coffee in the region. As a member of the Platform's first Coordination Committee, Rikolto played a key role in establishing and consolidating the Platform's governance. Today, Rikolto takes on the role of facilitator of this platform.

In 2022, the platform was a valuable partner for implementing key actions for the National Action Plan for Peruvian Coffee led by the Ministry of Agriculture (MIDAGRI) and UNDP. For example, it linked the local coffee community to the International Coffee Organization's international study on living incomes, which sought to identify the income threshold for a coffee-growing family to live in dignity.

That same year, one of the platform's most ambitious commitments was to increase coffee productivity in a sustainable way. It reinforced a work path that included improving and nurturing the soils used for coffee cultivation in the region, and reducing the carbon footprint of coffee in agroforestry systems.

With regards to the soil, the platform promotes the use of the web and mobile application Fertisuelo. Developed in 2018 by the Red Técnica del Norte and Rikolto, the application allows consolidating regional soil data to improve production management and technical support at farm level. From 2021, PMACC has supported upscaling of the tool to promote its use among local coffee farmers.

In 2022, the Alliance held workshops to improve technical staff's capacity to conduct soil sampling and knowledge of the country's seed production regulations. It also aimed at helping them validate the application and manage the data they had collected. Work was carried out with 5 cooperatives that are members of the PMACC; 5 pilot plots were equipped with inputs, and 30 producers were trained with soil analysis techniques. A team of 19 technicians now works with producer organisations and government projects in the Cajamarca region. They carry out diagnostics, sampling and data interpretation, and advise on coffee plantation nutrition and soil fertility plans.

In 2022, the platform was also involved in two projects: Coffee & Climate – in which Rikolto, Unicafec and PMACC collaborated with support from PromPerú and Vlaams Brabant – and More coffee, less CO2 in Ecuador and Peru (COCO2) – in which Rikolto, CONGOPE, PUCP, ESPOL, PMACC collaborated, with support from the G-STIC Climate Action Programme funded by the Government of Flanders.

As a result of these projects, together with the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), we validated the Calcafé tool of the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, which allows producer organisations to have a simpler and lower cost digital tool to calculate the environmental footprint of coffee produced in agroforestry systems. Using the tool makes it easier to make decisions and change production models based on information from the field.

"Calcafé can be part of a public policy. It has the effect of going further and allowing our producers to gain competitive and comparative advantages in the international market". Alex Duenas, researcher at the PUCP

The Calcafé tool has been shared by PMACC, so that other coffee producer organisations in the area can access this resource and the experience of technicians and producers from the Unicafec coffee cooperative. This cooperative was the first to test the full version of the tool in Cajamarca. It also contributes to linking coffee-growing areas in Ecuador and Peru by disseminating and upscaling tools to reduce the carbon footprint in agroforestry systems.

Platforms as catalysts of collective action

Collective action is urgent for complex sectors like cocoa and coffee. It goes beyond dialogue to create synergies that drive efficiency in the use of resources, mapping and negotiating public-private collaboration, and co-create proposals on a participatory basis taking into account the diverse expectations and needs of different stakeholders involved. This is why platforms have a role to play in boosting the sustainability of the cocoa and coffee sector.

Rikolto's successful experience with multi-stakeholder platforms is also reflected in Nicaragua (MASLAGO, NICAFÉS platforms), Ecuador (PAQ) and Peru (Cacao, Forests and Diversity Agreement).

Our Sustainable Cocoa and Coffee Programme fosters active discussion and proposals with governments, companies, cooperatives and producer organisations, uniting actors around a sustainable food system that guarantees a decent income and access to sustainable and nutritious food for current and future generations in Latin America and the world.

Editor: Heleen Verlinden - International Communications, Rikolto.

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