News » “Many people have taken our ideas to heart” - GIZ and ICAFE analyse impact of Costa Rica's NAMA Support Project in the coffee sector


After over three years of implementation, Sandra Spies, project director of the NAMA Support Project on behalf of GIZ, and Carlos Fonseca, technical manager at ICAFE, take a step back to analyse and discuss the successes and challenges that have come with the project, and how it could serve as a model for other countries and sectors.



Costa Rica aims to decarbonize its economy. How are the Coffee NAMA and the NSP contributing to that goal?

Fonseca: One major effect of this NAMA will be to lower emissions in the agricultural sector, which will help us achieve that national target. The coffee sector was chosen because it is one of the most important sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. We started by determining a baseline for the emissions and from there, we began educating people at the plantations and in coffee mills in order to reach the NAMA’s mitigation goals. Ultimately, we want to create a more sustainable coffee sector that is also equipped to fight the effects of climate change.

Spies: Coffee has truly become a pioneering sector for low-carbon development. In Costa Rica, it is meticulously organised, a situation which has helped us create a successful model that is now ready to be transferred to other agricultural subsectors within the country like livestock or banana production.


Which factors have you identified as the biggest sources of emissions in the coffee production chain?

Fonseca: There are many factors, but the main one is the use of fertilisers on plantations, which generates the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. In the project, we promote an intelligent use of fertilisers through precision farming methods and the development of indicators for a more rational use of fertiliser per kilogram of coffee. This can actually have a big impact on emissions without sacrificing productivity or economical production.


At what point can coffee be considered “low-carbon”?

Spies: We collect data on all sources of emissions at every step of the production process, from the plantations to the coffee mills. That data is gathered each year as part of the measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) system developed by the NSP. This enables us to monitor the sustainable development of coffee production and measure the exact levels of CO2e emitted per kilogram of coffee. We compare emission from one year to the next and a reduction is considered to be an improvement.


Have you already noticed a reduction in emissions?

Spies: We started with an average baseline of 2.7 kilograms CO2e per kilogram of coffee. Thanks to the measures adopted as part of the NSP, like investments in more efficient technologies or adopting more sustainable methods, a number of mills and farms have already been able to undercut the baseline significantly and even get down to less than 2 kilograms CO2e per kilogram of coffee.


How can emissions be effectively reduced in the mills?

Fonseca: We have elaborated a series of recommendations to reduce energy consumption. We advise owners on how to analyse their current energy consumption and then consider investing in more efficient machinery, like drying ovens or more efficient lighting.

Spies: Some coffee mills have already introduced new methods for treating pulp and husks, which are waste products of coffee production. Instead of letting this biodegradable waste pile up, which results in considerable methane emissions, the new methods help treat these byproducts in composting processes to control and avoid emissions.



Are farmers and mill owners aware of the need for change?

Fonseca: When we started four years ago, there was not a great deal of awareness for the environmental concepts that are motivating this NAMA. But today, awareness for these issues has clearly grown and many people have taken our ideas to heart. If you talk to a coffee farmer about emissions or mitigation targets now, you’ll see those topics immediately click and they try to implement best practices as much as possible within their means. It has been very interesting to watch how local farmers evaluate, adopt and implement our recommendations.


So, you have made great strides in awareness since launching the NAMA and the NSP?

Fonseca: Definitely, the farmers did not know about global warming or climate change when we started this project. We had to make them aware of the fact that we are confronting a real environmental threat that stems from the labor that is happening in the coffee sector, and that we need to introduce corrective measures. As soon as it became clear that the measures were relatively easy to implement, they also adopted them quickly, even if it meant changing their traditional techniques.

Spies: From the second year on, we conducted our workshops on farms that had already implemented some of the measures and experienced satisfying results. That approach was very effective when it came to convincing new farmers to participate. We also used very accessible and illustrative examples to explain the chemistry behind the processes. An important argument for many of the farmers was that several practices we recommend also reduce costs, because of less money being spent on fertiliser or electricity, for example. They also liked the idea of gaining access to new markets by producing low-carbon coffee. As a next step, it will be important to extend that awareness to consumers. We need a broad solidarity initiative within the coffee consuming countries to make this coffee available to consumers, because without the market side, the idea will not work in the long run.


Did the Coffee NAMA have substantial support from both the government and the private sector from the very start?

Fonseca: Yes, the NAMA began as a collaborative initiative led by three institutions: the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment, and us at the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica as technical consultants who maintain very close ties to the coffee sector. In essence, it is an alliance between the public and private sectors.

Spies: When we subsequently started the NSP, the three stakeholders Carlos Fonseca just mentioned had already laid the groundwork. They had identified ten processing plants that were looking into ways to make their coffee production less carbon intensive. All three institutions have been engaged in very constructive discussions from the very beginning, despite their distinct interests. This multisectoral approach has been an important factor in the project’s success.


What is the importance of the support of the NAMA Facility and the NSP for the implementation of the NAMA?

Fonseca: It has played a very important role in potentiating the government’s initiatives. Support from the NSP team covers areas like technical information materials and training for farmers, the development of the MRV system that lies at the core of the project, and also the commercialisation and marketing of low-carbon coffee. Additionally, the NSP gives the farmers and mill owners access to credit lines which help them transform their businesses in order to reduce their carbon footprint.


How do these credit lines work?

Spies: Part of the financing for the NSP is used to achieve a lower interest rate for low-carbon investments in the sector. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) leverages this amount to create a credit line called the NAMA Café Financing Programme which will facilitate up to ten million dollars in loans for coffee mills. Besides this credit line, the NSP works with two other financial mechanisms. We support grants of up to 10 per cent of investments made in low-carbon, energy- and water-efficient technologies as a sort of fast-track approach to transformation. The third mechanism involves grants to promote the planting of shade trees on coffee farms as an additional means to offset their emissions and adapt to climatic changes.


How important are financial mechanisms to achieve a transformational change?

Fonseca: They are indispensable. On the one hand we work to inform and train farmers and producers at mill, but with these financial mechanisms we can also leverage resources so that they can actually purchase and implement the new technologies.


How will this transformation process continue when the NSP is formally concluded in 2019?

Fonseca: When the NSP ends, my colleagues and I at the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica will continue to work with the concepts it lays out. We are also developing financial mechanisms to support its ideas with resources from other institutions. So, the seeds of change have been sown and they are already bearing fruit.


What would you say are some key takeaways from the implementation of the NSP?

Spies: One major lesson for us was that the excellent organisation of the coffee sector has been a key factor for the success of the project from the beginning. We also realised that it is important to take a flexible approach to unexpected problems and opportunities that arise along the way. For example, we decided to use an app developed by USAID to generate valuable data collected from producers and growers for our MRV system. When we noticed that changes were necessary, we adapted the app to our needs to facilitate data collection in the field. The Coffee Institute plans to further amplify it to include additional functions.

Proximity to the people was also very important. Sometimes, you could say projects like this tend to fly too high. We wanted to bring things back down to earth and to the people who are involved, so we went into the field, we talked and listened to farmers, and integrated their views and ideas into the project.



Which mistakes would you like to have avoided?

Spies: We underestimated the complexity of the agricultural sector. If you visit the 256 coffee mills in Costa Rica, you will notice that every single one is different. It is important to connect that reality to metrics and our national statistics, because the difference is immense. And it’s important to keep that in mind when elaborating a concept.

Fonseca: At the beginning of the project, we set a number of goals without deeply having a verified baseline, so basically several of our targets were impossible to reach. This NAMA brought a very new concept to Costa Rica, and that was one reason why we didn’t have enough information to base the initial decisions on.

Spies: A delegation from El Salvador recently came to visit us because they were interested in developing a NAMA in an agricultural sector as well. One of our first recommendations was that they should take a very close look at their numbers and make sure they are reliable. If you don’t have a robust baseline, you really need to take the time to create one. Only then can you set realistic, data-driven goals.


What are your hopes in terms of the impact of the Coffee NAMA and its NSP in the global struggle against climate change?

Fonseca: Costa Rica only produces 0.035% of the world’s coffee. So obviously, we’re very small and so is our direct impact on global emissions. But the real impact of our work is the development of a best practice example. We hope that other countries will choose to adopt our model and adapt it to their needs. We have also gathered important learnings that will be invaluable to future projects around the world. There are several coffee producing countries in the region, like El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Colombia, that would like to introduce similar projects and are now looking for the infrastructure and support similar to what we had through the NAMA Facility, which has been the engine driving this whole initiative.


The interview was conducted on behalf of the NAMA Facility, the NSP Café's donor, and originally published on the Facility's → website.