“We thought we would be able to fight it, but we were wrong and now we know that. We’ve realized that there are varieties that at one time were resistant, but no longer are. One of those who taught us how to work with coffee in this area is the PROTCAFES Project.”

In the Trifinio region of Latin America, where Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras meet, small coffee producers have taken big hits when it comes to production and sustainability. Age-old farming practices and methods that farmers have relied on for generations don’t stand a chance against the drastic changes in temperatures and weather patterns that bring new diseases and pests along with them. “The Roya came to stay in our area and it was something we didn’t understand,” says Carlos Rosa, manager at the CAFEL Cooperative in Copan Ruinas. Rosa and the other producers at CAFEL found themselves desperate for sustainable solutions in 2003 when their crops were completely destroyed by Roya, forcing them to move away from the zone where they had always worked. “We thought we would be able to fight it, but we were wrong and now we know that. We’ve realized that there are varieties that at one time were resistant, but no longer are. One of those who taught us how to work with coffee in this area is the PROTCAFES Project.”

 

Funded by International Coffee Partners and managed by Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), the PROTCAFES Project began in 2012 with five major project components, one of which is focused on climate and sustainability. “Climate change is affecting the region a lot,” says Fredy Menendez, who is the PROTCAFES Project Coordinator at HRNS, “so the need exists to be able to take direct actions to make coffee sustainable. One of our objectives is to give awareness to the coffee producers about the importance of climate change and its effects on their crops, and to find practices to adapt to that.” For the farmers involved in the project, the positive impact is unanimous.

“A well-nourished plant is more resistant to diseases and specifically the Roya. That is the lesson I can say,” says Rosa, “Nutrition and good practices. The PROTCAFES Project taught us the nutritional part, that there were other resistant varieties, that we needed to prune and all of that, and the integration of these practices is the success that we have. It’s a success through cooperation because we’ve made an alliance, and I can’t deny that the technical assistance has been great because the results are there.”

Ultimately the plants are not only improving in climate resilience. At the same time coffee quality is improving. A fact that has been proofed during an external evaluation in 2018 by the Sustainable Markets Intelligencs Center (CIMS). “85% of beneficiaries responded that they observed an improvement in coffee quality since entering the programs”, says HRNS M&E Manager Tobias Voigt. “92% of participants in the Trifinio region affirm that their livelihood has improved since beginning their participation in the program.”

Through training in adaptation practices and techniques, PROTCAFES has allowed farmers to find new ways forward in maintaining their production and quality in the face of new climate-related challenges that didn’t exist before. The implementation of shade trees, pruning, natural protection barriers, and organic fertilizers are just a few of the tools the project has equipped producers with, and their success is overwhelming. Amalia Solis, a young coffee producer in La Palma, El Salvador, has the plants to prove it.

“We’ve seen a renewal of the plantations,” she says as she stands among her flourishing coffee crop, “PROTCAFES promotes sustainability through change projects, which I think is the most important so that we farmers can see that we can make coffee sustainable in our area. Of course, with a lot of effort and work, but it is possible.”

The hope of that possibility and an action plan to achieve it is exactly what coffee farmers in the Trifinio area have needed for awhile. In the aftermath of the Roya crisis and with climate changes only increasing, exhaustion and uncertainty has been the overwhelming notion for most coffee producers in the region. With the training and support offered through the ICP co-funded PROTCAFES Project, producers now feel a second wind to tackle arising climate challenges now and in the future.

Further Field Notes

Indonesia: Diversifying to be ready for a hotter and more variable coffee climate

Ibu Wonten and Pak Suripto are a smallholder coffee-farming couple that lives in Bendeng Tiga Village in the Gunung Raya highlands of OKU Selatan Regency, Indonesia. They managed to diversify and enhance the climate-resilience of their coffee farm. As a couple they...