"We are not the same as we used to be. We learned why we need to measure, what to measure and how to measure. We learned how to identify vulnerabilities and risks (both to do and not to do). We learned how to make improvements. Clearly it is a process, but it is becoming more and more natural for us to implement good practices."
-“We are not the same as we used to be”
Xinia Chaves occupied the position of Vice Minister of Agriculture when talk of a NAMA in the agricultural sector began. She says that she never doubted that coffee had to be the first agricultural NAMA, because the ambitious and innovative nature of the initiative made it necessary to partner with a solid, mature and nationally credible reference point, such as ICAFE has always been.
The founding of ICAFE in 1933 - a non-state public institution regulated by Law No. 2762 of the Republic- was the materialization of the cultural, economic and social importance that coffee has had since before our independence. Since then, ICAFE has played a crucial role in improving the productivity of Costa Rican coffee through research and technical assistance and promoting its consumption in national and international markets.
This history explains the high degree of cohesion within the sector and with its governing institution, which provided two conditions that were fundamental for the development of the Coffee NSP: first, a reliable capacity to generate hard data for the preparation of diagnoses and the definition of commitments and actions, and second, robustness on a national scale to "bring down" the actions from the decision-making bodies, passing through the technicians and down to the farm.
The process was not free of difficulties, and Chaves lists two main ones: first, grounding (what could be more grounded than agriculture?) and 'tropicalizing' abstract concepts born of a Euro-centric philosophy and perspective. Second, to harmonize two forces that have historically operated as opposites: agriculture and environment. In achieving this, she considers that ICAFE was a true catalyst, but is quick to credit the mystique of the institutional personnel involved in the process for moderating and aligning positions towards the achievement of the proposed common objective: the Coffee NAMA.
Looking ahead: where are we and what's next?
Chaves aspires -and believes it is absolutely feasible- to have all of Costa Rica's coffee production and processing aligned with NAMA practices. To achieve this, the technical management team of ICAFE is now preparing a plan that will specify the progression and time frame in which the actions will be developed, but is aware and regrets that the pandemic has imposed significant barriers to the development of face-to-face activities, which it considers irreplaceable for the agricultural environment.
The interest in using information and communication technologies as allies led to the creation and availability of the CRCAFE mobile application for producers. Among other functions, it is a tool for the collection and measurement of data from the farm (which will also provide content to the traceability and sustainability project); it is remote technical assistance from ICAFE to the farm and it is promotion and marketing, by generating a QR code that will be printed on the packages and will allow the final consumer to know the good practices under which the coffee that is being purchased has been produced.
Chaves is optimistic that the conditions are favorable to give continuity to the project: the country is left with the 'National Low Emission and Climate Change Resilient Coffee Strategy'; there are tangible results that place ICAFE in a better position when seeking support from cooperation and an invaluable amount of knowledge was acquired, both in the institutions and in the productive sector.
For example, she highlights the progress made in relation to greenhouse gas measurements. Chaves says that the numbers used to establish the baseline and the commitments to be aspired to did not accurately reflect the real share of emissions from the sector, because there was no clarity or examples to learn from (let us not forget that it was the first agricultural NAMA in the world). Consequently, she admits that the indicators were not as ambitious as they could have been but notes that this is a lesson that has been learned and will be extremely important for informing future NAMAs.
-We are not the same as we used to be. We learned why we need to measure, what to measure and how to measure. We learned how to identify vulnerabilities and risks (both to do and not to do). We learned how to make improvements. Clearly it is a process, but it is becoming more and more natural for us to implement good practices.
Effects of the Coffee NSP that go beyond coffee
In order to provide continuity to the coffee NAMA or to develop any other agricultural NAMA, Chaves considers it is fundamental that the environmental and agricultural institutions partner with the organizations that represent and know each sector. It is these organizations, as was the case with ICAFE, that have the knowledge and relationships to promote practices among those who will ultimately bear the burden of the transition, whether at the farm or processing plant level.
To motivate change, Chaves recommends emphasizing that the economic impact generated in the production sector is not limited to what is compensated in the market through certification, but begins when good practices allow savings in the production process: in the amount of inputs, water and electricity.
-There was always the hope that, if we did things right in coffee, we would generate opportunities and conditions to continue promoting agri-environmental policies in many other sectors. I believe that we have succeeded.