Results » Testimonials: Victor Vargas

Victor Vargas

National Coffee Institute (ICAFE)

"We want coffee farming to be sustainable and resilient to climate change. The only way for this to happen is for us to implement good practices as should be done. Only then will we have coffee farming for another 200 years."

  1. “I am aware that climate change exists and that if I dont do something to change the situation now, it is difficult to do something in the future.”
  2. “The coffee industry is more focused on the part of mitigation. First you must start to mitigate, then we will adapt.

The 'good practices of the Coffee NAMA´ are now 'good practices of the coffee sector'

Carlos Fonseca and Victor Vargas represent ICAFE on the Coffee NAMA technical committee. Both officials agree that the commitment with which ICAFE assumed its role in the implementation of the Coffee NSP actions made them transcend the project and become an intrinsic part of the institution's work. In this way, they say, the initiative achieves sustainability because it does not depend on the validity of a project or the existence of external support. In other words, the "good practices of the Coffee NAMA" are now "good practices of ICAFE or of the coffee sector".

Contextualization, participatory methodologies and attention to economic aspects

Both Fonseca and Vargas value positively the decision to have started the training component with a training of trainers course whose study and work groups were established according to the regions. This aspect, they say, was relevant in that it contributed to a better contextualization of the practices according to the environmental, socioeconomic and even cultural specificities of each reality.

They explain that in order to gain the buy-in of the good agricultural practices on the farm and at the coffee mill , they used participatory and dynamic methodologies, ensuring that all of them were demonstrated and validated.

More abstract concepts such as climate change, GHG emissions and carbon neutrality required more patience and work to adapt and "translate" the terminology to the Costa Rican context and to more tangible effects for the agricultural sector.

Another important element was to focus attention on the positive economic impact of implementing good practices, both in terms of increased productivity and savings during the production process, both on the farm and at the coffee mills.

-Part of sustainability must be environmental, but also economic and social. We achieve nothing with saying 'how beautiful the birds are' if nothing to subsist on is generated. `How nice the birds are'? Yes, but how nice is productivity and family and having a harmonious project, emphasizes Fonseca.

Change is not achieved through the mere transmission of knowledge

That fact is clear to them at ICAFE and they regret that the pandemic has put the brakes on the plan they had for 2020 to monitor the degree of implementation of good practices in order to understand what made certain people make the changes. The contrary is equally important: to understand what was lacking among those who did not make the changes: knowledge, motivation, capacity?

Attempts have been made to virtualize training activities, but they agree that it has not been effective, neither in terms of summoning people nor in the effectiveness of knowledge transmission.

What if the consumer does not understand GHG emissions?

The promotion and marketing component, say both officials, taught them a very important lesson, which was that in Europe coffee roasters were not aware of an abstract concept such as low-emission coffee, but were aware of more tangible -or perhaps more emotionally accessible- aspects such as the protection of a specific species, such as a sloth or a green macaw from extinction.

Reaching that understanding is crucial to adapt the positioning and marketing strategy, because, as Fonseca says: "How are they going to pay us more for a low-emissions coffee if they don't even know what GHG emissions are, what carbon neutrality is, let alone what a NAMA is? It could almost be said that there is an entire component that should not even occur in the country, one of consumer education that should occur abroad, in the target markets.

Another lesson learned from the promotion and marketing actions is that in Costa Rica we do not know how to sell coffee. And we do not know, because they have always bought coffee from us. We have not, therefore, developed the mentality or acquired the tools to intentionally and with appropriation of what we have, go out to offer, educate and enamor potential clients with our product.

They estimate that the marketing training courses given to 45 managers and the commercial tours were a real "mental chip change" among those who had the opportunity to participate. As distressing as an immersive experience can be, both Vargas and Fonseca agree on how gratifying it was to witness the transformation of these people and see them go from being "those who are bought from and are offered a take-it-or-leave-it price" to being "those who sell and set a price based on the conviction of their value proposition".

The verification of concrete results in this component is another aspect that has yet to be implemented and will be left for a later phase due to the pandemic.

The Coffee NAMA outside our borders

ICAFE has collaborated with coffee institutes in countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, Peru and the Dominican Republic. With Panama they supported initial training and Nicaragua has shown interest in initiating the process.

Collaborations have been on a bilateral basis with some facilitation from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and GIZ. The Regional Cooperative Program for the Technological Development and Modernization of Coffee Growing (PROMECAFE) is considering the possibility of a regional NAMA-related initiative, but the idea is still in its infancy and the road ahead is long. Conceptual barriers are acknowledged, as well as interinstitutional and intersectoral coordination barriers between countries that will require a great deal of work, resources and alignment of wills.

For the time being, for Costa Rica, agricultural NAMAs seem to have the potential for development and the coffee NAMA seems to have the potential for continuity. Fonseca clarifies that this is so because the Coffee NAMA came to fit perfectly in the context of a project that as a country leads us towards decarbonization.

-We want coffee farming to be sustainable and resilient to climate change. The only way for this to happen is for us to implement good practices as should be done. Only then will we have coffee farming for another 200 years.