"It's laudable to align all sectors in a path towards lower emissions, there must also be moderation in terms of the share of responsibility to be assigned to the agricultural sector -and in this specific case, the coffee sector-, especially if the equation also takes into account what the sector removes in carbon."
Recognizing the contributions of coffee in all the pillars of sustainable development
-What cannot be measured cannot be controlled and, therefore, improved. This is how Kathia Aguilar approaches what she considers to be one of the main challenges faced when starting up the Coffee NSP. She says this because quantifying is not usual in the agricultural sector where most of the activities are carried out empirically and "by rules of thumb". Thus, developing capacities among producers to acquire a culture of measurement, monitoring, reporting and follow-up was one of the critical actions of the project.
Agribusiness: neither hero nor villain
For Aguilar, although it is laudable to align all sectors in a path towards lower emissions, there must also be moderation in terms of the share of responsibility to be assigned to the agricultural sector -and in this specific case, the coffee sector-, especially if the equation also takes into account what the sector removes in carbon.
It considers that an approach that does more justice to the coffee sector, with its shortcomings and its contributions, is that of the sustainable development goals, because it manages to balance the important role that it plays in the economic, social and environmental axes.
The coffee of the future
The Coffee NSP will leave the sector equipped with the 'National Low Emission and Climate Change Resilient Coffee Strategy' that will serve to give continuity to the actions initiated under the project and will have an impact on all links in the chain.
But in what concrete way will this strategy contribute to the transformation of the coffee sector? Aguilar sees the importance of having an instrument that is not only orienting in itself, but that frames the sector in a coherent way in a country project towards a low emissions and resilient economy. Demonstrating the existence of a country commitment with a clear guiding thread to the sector is crucial when seeking support from international cooperation.
Understanding what worked well
Among the different actors involved in the implementation of this project there is unanimity in describing it as a success. For Aguilar an important part of the success can be attributed to the proactivity of the coffee sector, which has traditionally shown an interest in participating in environmental initiatives.
...and what is still missing
To date, companies that implement good practices and adopt technologies aligned to the NAMA could choose to obtain an organizational recognition that shows low carbon and why not, resilient operations for their actions under the component of agroforestry systems. Aguilar explains that, as it is not granted to the product itself and therefore cannot be placed on the label of the coffee bag, this recognition does not allow technically strict comparability between coffee production processes from the procurement of raw materials to the placing on the shelf or at the port of shipment with its corresponding life cycle analysis. For this reason, work was done together with the Technical Standards Institute of Costa Rica (INTECO) to develop an environmental labeling standard that includes the carbon footprint of the product. In addition to the processes that occur within the boundaries of the organization (producing company), this process will also regulate the measurement along all the links in the chain.
Aguilar agrees that all this, which sounds very good in the environmental sector, is, in effect, an additional burden in effort and costs for the producer. For it to be sustainable, the producing sector will need to see recognition that translates into better prices. At this moment, she admits, there is still not enough environmental awareness among consumers to motivate them to pay extra for a coffee that, in addition to cup quality, has an added value in environmental terms.
For the time being, perhaps the notion that contributes the most is that of process. Understanding that these are ongoing actions that are part of a path that is gradually being added to through greater awareness and recognition among consumers and resilience and productivity throughout the coffee chain.
Especially in the context of this pandemic, the recovery of all economic subsectors will present opportunities and threats to improve resilience with a green economy approach. For Aguilar, it is important as a country not to lose direction, to avoid falling into carbon-intensive trajectories, and, on the contrary, to maintain coherence in the decisions and choices made so that the recovery is low in emissions.