In 2015 Twin, Marks and Spencer, Matthew Algie and Taylors of Harrogate - all with a strategic interest in Peruvian coffee - began conversations about the increasing challenge of securing sustainable coffee from this unique origin. Partners’ recognised the significant challenges faced by smallholder producers in Latin America, particularly in Peru, around the resilience of the coffee supply chain as a result of Coffee Leaf rust – or ‘Roya’. In some areas up to 80% of crops had been decimated as a result of the disease.
For the previous two seasons, Twin and Matthew Algie had implemented a project with San Juan del Oro Cooperative in the Puno region of Southern Peru. This project recognised the increasing impact of climate change on coffee in this area. It also addressed the potential negative impacts coffee farming could have on the environment, if not managed appropriately. The initial project concentrated on promoting and supporting agroforestry and climate smart coffee production. It looked in depth at water management, as practices amongst some farmers meant that contaminated waste water was being spilled into local water sources. The project was also a part of San Juan del Oro’s Rainforest Alliance Certification. Although well received, it was clear from the delivery of this work that members of San Juan del Oro faced challenges beyond the environmental. Twin was hearing of similar issues from its other cooperative partner in central Peru, CAC Pangoa, and it was here that the project proposal developed.
In-depth participatory planning with farmers from CAC Pangoa and San Juan del Oro highlighted the following interrelated issues they were facing:
- Climate change impacts, the effects of Roya (leaf rust), on volumes, yield and quality – poor quality and low yields meant farmers were struggling to break even
- Natural resource management: a shortage of water, poor soil quality and limited shade tree cover, which also had an impact on volumes and quality
- Gender injustices: women providing the majority of the work (around 55%) but having little say or control over resources or decisions – and were rarely involved in selling or marketing the coffee, meaning men had control over the family finances
- Youth disengagement: limited access to land, finance and training and a disengagement with coffee – resulting in significant rural to urban migration, seeking new opportunities and leaving their aging parents to tend the farms.
1,573 farmers have been trained in sustainable and climate-smart coffee production through the cooperative staff and the networks of Farmer Field Schools that have been set up. Farmers have learnt how to produce their own organic compost and fertiliser, producing over 1,800 tonnes of compost and 31,000 litres of organic liquid fertiliser in three years. As a result of the increased access to inputs as well as the training in improved farming techniques, their coffee yields have increased by 56.8% (from an average of 10.5qq/ha to an average of 15.92qq/ha).
Between both of the cooperatives participating in the project, 680 male and female farmers have been trained in GALS. 94% of participants said the training has had a direct impact on gender roles and dynamics within their households. They report that more responsibilities are shared, that the husband and children have a better understanding of the work that women do, an increase in decision making amongst women and even greater ‘tranquillity’ at home as the biggest impacts. 54 women have accessed loans to start their own businesses or make improvements to their farm, with 95 women trained on income diversification projects such as organic vegetable production. Both cooperatives have seen an increase in female membership, and the number of women who hold leadership positions has jumped up from three at the beginning of the project to 31 at the end.
415 young people accessed vocational training, for example on barista skills or coffee marketing, or have accessed small loans to start a business. Both cooperatives reported a renewed interest and engagement from young people in coffee farming. Esperanza Dionision, General Manager of Pangoa:“By involving (youth) in the production and the business side of things they will be more motivated, they can see more possibilities. The young coffee farmer of the future needs to have a profession, they need to be something else, the young person of today is dynamic and we need to offer them a chance to develop themselves. We've been working with young people since 2006 and it's taken close to 12 years to start to see young people wanting to engage with coffee. These last three years of the project with the courses and trainings have helped a lot towards this.”
Producing good quality coffee is difficult for smallholder producers and requires every step of the journey to be ‘just right’. It requires significant time and investment. It was clear at the beginning of this project that producers in Peru faced a number of different issues that went far beyond the basics of coffee production, but that had an impact on their ability to continue to produce great quality coffee. Running a project that aimed to make coffee production more profitable and reliable benefitted everyone. The farmers now have more sustainable practices and more stable incomes, giving them some security for the future. The two cooperatives have much stronger relationships with their buyers and know what they need. Matthew Algie and Taylors of Harrogate can be more confident that their source of green beans is reliable, and Marks & Spencer can offer its customers an excellent quality coffee.
This project demonstrates that collaboration across the value chain is an approach that works. The investment was worthwhile because everyone had something to gain. It was fantastic to see dedication to a project from people living thousands of miles apart.