Regenerative Coffee: Raising the Sustainability Bar for SMS

23/11/22

What is Regenerative Agriculture?

 

In the last year it is more and more common to hear the term Regenerative Agriculture, and many questions can come to mind, such as what is this? How does this change methods of producing coffee? How will the final consumer understand it? And how will this coffee be marketed?

 

For some of these questions we still do not have the answer but what we can say is that Regenerative Agriculture will allow us to have better productivity and sustainability in the long term.

 

There are many descriptions of what Regenerative Agriculture is, however, we can explain it as follows according to renature ¨it is an agricultural strategy that uses nature as a guide, since nature is a sustainable system, a regenerative farm hopes to be the same ¨. Regenerative agriculture is a new way of restoring balance to the ecosystem, of guaranteeing true sustainability over time for the producer and the entire chain.

 

In 2020, we received the strategy from one of our main clients, Nespresso, who launched its 2030 strategy aligned with regenerative production. Other roasters also launched communications with similar strategies, so we saw an opportunity to start leading the initiative. In May 2020, we presented our Regenerative Coffee strategy to Nespresso and immediately began to implement it within the Farm Management program. Here we have the perfect scenario, because it is almost a controlled environment to begin to investigate, implement and understand the positive or negative impact of the management practices that we chose at the time.

 

It is very important to mention that the model as such is a challenge for the producer, SMS and the roaster, the following description by the Rainforest Alliance sums it up very well:

 

¨Raising the Bar – Regenerative Agriculture for more Resilient Agro-Ecosystems¨.

 

Regenerative agriculture entails a commitment beyond what we have done so far as producers and as SMS.

 

After this time, we have a clearer strategy focused on 4 axes:

 

New genetic varieties are the basis for migrating to regenerative agriculture.

 

The research and development of new varieties that are more tolerant or resistant to diseases is the first step in working with producers. This axis allows us to be able to modify the agronomic management plan by substituting chemical fungicides for organic or biological products. In adverse weather conditions, they allow the producer to have a better resilience to climate change.

 

The renovation of coffee with improved varieties is a driver to reduce the chemical load in the production of regenerative coffee. It allows the production of more and better-quality coffee per area, which has a direct impact on the quality of life of the producer and their family. Having invested in genetic improvement programmes with research institutes such as CIRAD, this allows us as ECOM to have a competitive advantage today.

 

Main changes in Crop Management

 

Regenerative agronomic management implies changes in the way a new coffee area is established, mainly the planting distance, so that it allows us to enter more light, better ventilation, and allow the incorporation of other crops or green covers.

 

The reduction of the consumption of herbicides implies for the producer to implement mechanical or manual control methods of weeds, with the objective of protecting the soil. Sometimes you can use weeds present on the farm or plant green covers, the incorporation of green covers is key to reduce erosion, maintain a lower temperature and improve soil health. It also allows better infiltration of water in the soil, some fix nitrogen and, when cut, the coffee plant can absorb it. Therefore this has become a strategy to reduce the consumption of chemical sources of nitrogen.

 

Reduced consumption of synthetic fertilisers

 

— One of the main challenges is how to reduce the consumption of fertilisers given that the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions come from the nitrogen sources used in fertilisers. The strategy we have used to reduce the annual consumption of fertiliser from 25% to 30% compared to a conventional producer, is described below:

— We changed the fertilising technique, incorporating it into the soil to increase efficiency.

— Controlled release Nitrogen and Potassium sources were included at 30% to 50%, which allows a longer effect and improves efficiency.

— Incorporation of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

— The use of organic material was included.

 

Climate Resilience

 

The impact of climate change on coffee production is becoming more noticeable, which is why it is key for SMS to develop production models under agroforestry systems, as a mechanism to protect the plant from sudden changes in temperature during the day and the night, reduce the impact of excess radiation and a better distribution of rainwater on the ground.

 

Implementing an agroforestry model with trees of various strata can take more than 5 years, so that this shade fulfils the role that we want within the coffee.

 

Healthy soils for the future of coffee

 

The health of the soil is key, it implies for the producer the changes mentioned above and to begin to monitor through soil analysis, the balance of nutrients, acidity, and organic matter. As SMS we are working on the incorporation of bacteria, microorganisms, root bio stimulants and biols produced from coffee mucilage and liquid amendments. This will:

— Allow a better growth of the root of the plant (this allows the plant to have a better capacity to absorb nutrients).
Mean faster decomposition of organic matter and solubilisation of soil nutrients.

— Increase the natural enemies of pests and diseases.

— Correct acidity problems, which allows us to improve the efficiency of nutrients.

 

Investing in the health of the soil, on farms under the Farm Management model, has allowed us to achieve healthier plants, better growth, and manage to take care of the most valuable asset on a coffee farm: the soil.

 

What we have discussed in this article has many benefits for the producer, ECOM and the roaster, since it is completely aligned with our climate change strategy and guarantees our coffee supply in the long term.

 

However, implementing these practices for the producer implies an investment in the renewal of coffee and increases the cost of production, mainly in terms of labour. Therefore, we cannot sell this coffee under current certification program awards. Regenerative coffee little by little will become an opportunity for roasters to start developing the supply chain for the future.

 

Two years ago we took the first steps. Today we have enormous knowledge based on science and practical knowledge, which gives us a lot of credibility with any roaster, donor, or bank.

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