Coffee and collaboration: a success story from Peru

Posted by Liz Foggitt on 13 November 2018

In 2015, Twin set up a project to increase the resilience of coffee farming in Peru. The approach - to form an alliance between people across the whole value chain. The ambition – a united front would tackle interrelated issues for coffee producers and make farming more sustainable. The result - a triumph of teamwork that will have long-lasting rewards for everyone involved. 

Small-scale coffee farming is challenging. Common issues for farmers include increasingly unpredictable weather, gender injustice and youth disengagement. Each problem is connected to the next and inaction further entwines the issues, leaving the farmers with a web of difficulties that’s hard to navigate. This project addressed these challenges with input from farmers, two cooperatives, Twin, two UK based coffee roasters: Matthew Algie and Taylors of Harrogate  and retailer Marks & Spencer. 

Peru is one of the top 20 coffee producers in the world. However, the country recently suffered from a devastating outbreak of coffee leaf rust, or Roya in Spanish. In some areas, 80% of crops were decimated and many farmers, including whole families, abandoned their land in favour of work in the mines and cities. Twin has been trading coffee from Peru for many years and it was clear that starting a project to help preserve a fantastic coffee origin was vital. 

Peru compost

San Juan del Oro was one of the cooperatives in the project. It was founded in 1961 and is the oldest coffee cooperative in Peru. It is in the Sandia District of Southern Peru, near the Bolivian border and is extremely hard to reach. In addition, the region is among the poorest in Peru. The landscape is striking with thick jungle on the hillsides and the river Tambopata runs through the valley below – the perfect conditions in which to grow fantastic quality coffee. The coop has 1,118 members including 317 women, in what is a traditionally very male dominated culture. As with many other areas in Peru, San Juan del Oro was hit hard by the Roya outbreak and around 30% of people left to find work elsewhere. 

The coop relies on people investing in their farms – on renovating them, on maintaining enough shade and tree cover, and on working on ways to improve quality. Mateo Quispe Capajaña is the General Manager at San Juan del Oro and firmly believes that coffee farming has a future, if developed in the right way. Unlike other crops, you can plant coffee and have those trees for thirty or forty years. Coffee “has a concept of life that is totally different. But the preoccupation with making enough money with coffee is very real.” This has been particularly apparent in the context of recent low market prices. The leaders of the coop recognise the farmers’ worries and that it’s important to look beyond the coffee crop for future security, as well as doing all they can to ensure they are receiving a good price for their coffee.  

Two technicians were employed to advise on farming practices. Farmers were shown that planting native trees helps decrease soil erosion and increase shade cover for coffee trees – something that’s increasingly important with longer spells of intensely hot and dry weather. Farmers were also shown how to make organic compost and natural fertilisers to grow better quality coffee cherry. Jhon Reynaldo Vilca Cosi is the Manager of Production and Projects at the coop, he said before using fertilisers, the “cup score was always ranking at around 76, 77”, but in the last few years, “all of them are scoring 80 points and up.” Quickly visible impact like this helped to motivate farmers and unite the cooperative. 

Peru bee hives webA "fixation” of finding a quick source of income outside of farming is a particular trend among young people. Raul Pari-Apaza is a young farmer in the San Juan del Oro cooperative, he says “to motivate young people to want to stay working with coffee, we have to produce a coffee of a good quality and get a good price for it.”. The coop has a goal to help farmers diversify their income and help to inspire young people to understand what will improve the quality of the beans and increase the value of the crops. The project created a revolving fund, where young people could access loans to start their own businesses. Over three years, 30 youth accessed these loans to start enterprises including bee keeping, vegetable production and guinea pig rearing. 

Overall, across each strand of work, the project has demonstrated success: over three years, coffee yields have increased by 56%. In addition, 1,573 farmers have been trained in sustainable and climate-smart coffee production. Farmers that learnt how to produce their own organic compost and fertiliser, produced over 1,800 tonnes of compost and 31,000 litres of organic liquid fertiliser in three years. Over 600 people also participated in workshops to discuss gender equality and participants reported positive changes within their households.

However, these results are just the beginning. Motiving young people is what will make this project a long-term success. Mateo commented that “young people have another perspective; they are interested in change and innovation and so we are trying to support them in this. Before we were only talking about how much land someone had, or how much coffee they were producing… we never spoke about innovation.” With the cooperative now championing  youth and supporting their ambitions for innovation, as well as offering them tangible employment opportunities beyond farming, the impact of this project will continue for generations.

Find out more about the project here or watch the video below