"When they see the change in the soil and the way in which the plantations take on more color, more life… where they see that, they understand that it is working for them. Now we have to control the quantities given, because people want to take as much as possible with them."
Results that motivate change
A virtuous circle
With some three hundred thousand “fanegas” (46 kg of green coffee beans each) per harvest, CoopeTarrazú R.L. is the processing company that processes the most coffee in Costa Rica. For its manager, Carlos Vargas, this has clear implications in terms of the impact that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions taken by a company of this size can have.
CoopeTarrazú became involved with the Coffee NAMA in 2014, the year in which the company carried out its emissions inventory for the first time. The exercise made it clear that the largest amount of emissions were generated by poor management, or rather the lack of management of coffee solid waste, or "broza".
Throughout the project, CoopeTarrazú established a collaboration with the University of Stuttgart through which they researched and developed alternative ways to manage coffee waste. Thanks to an initial incentive provided by the project, the cooperative acquired equipment to mechanically convert coffee solid waste into compost.
Today, this cooperative has a centralized management center and ten hectares of land dedicated to composting. Whereas in the past it took four to five years for the coffee solid waste to decompose naturally, now the process takes about six weeks. This allows the members to reincorporate the organic material resulting from the treatment of the previous harvest's waste into their coffee plantations at the end of the harvest. In this way a virtuous circle is established: from the farm to the processing plant in the form of solid coffee waste, and back to the farm in the form of organic fertilizer.
Resistance to change and the drivers of change
As in all innovation processes, the first step for CoopeTarrazú was to overcome the resistance to change.
-There is always a bit of resistance and perhaps disbelief when it comes to making the change. [...] When we started with the NAMA, the resistance was whether we had to invest in equipment and machinery to carry out the process proposed for better pulp processing. [...] So the process took time, maybe two, three years, and then it accelerated, in the sense that we saw the alternative as a viable solution, and we were willing to invest many more resources in this process.
Vargas recalls that at the beginning it was not easy to convince the producers to substitute the chemical fertilizers that they were accustomed to using for organic compost. In this process of change the role of some leading producers was fundamental, who were encouraged to carry out the first tests and were able to verify the results in terms of improving the quality of the soil in their coffee plantations, which were already worn out by the use of so many agrochemicals.
-When they see the change in the soil and the way in which the plantations take on more color, more life… where they see that, they understand that it is working for them. Now we have to control the quantities given, because people want to take as much as possible with them.
The application of organic fertilizers in coffee plantations not only improves the quality of the soil, which will eventually be reflected in an increase in productivity. By eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers, it also contributes to the reduction of emissions at the farm level.
Vargas is confident that improved environmental performance of both farms and processing plants will help all of the cooperative's members improve their position in the marketplace.
-In the end, the market will recognize this effort by paying a better price or providing some other incentive.