How Agroforestry can Increase Coffee Farms’ Resilience to Climate Change

On the occasion of World Environment Day, Tristan Lecomte, co-founder and president of Pur Projet, explains why climate change puts coffee farms at risk and how agroforestry, such as the Nespresso approach, can increase farms’ resilience to it.
Jun 5, 2015 11:00 AM ET

The Nespresso Approach to Agroforestry

What is at stake in global climate ? How is it affecting coffee farmers? 

Climate change materializes in extreme climatic events and storms. The harvests of small-scale coffee farmers are already directly affected by prolonged droughts and heavy rains. This happens more and more often, with major impacts on crops. Moreover, damages are increased when the ecosystem is already degraded: erosion, aridification, pollution and lack of biodiversity... Farms need to be regenerated and more diversified to increase their resilience and adaptation to these climatic changes.

This is key to deliver great quality coffee too. You need a rich, robust and diversified ecosystem to deliver a grand cru. Climate change comes from the excess of greenhouse gases, of which Co2, present in the atmosphere. Trees absorb and sequester Co2 and transforms it into oxygen, hence, they are a perfect match to serve as "carbon sinks", to offset our climate footprint. You may already know this, and it's true, trees are a privileged way to balance human activities with Nature. 

Why and how can agroforestry be one of the solutions? What makes it relevant to coffee farmers and to coffee farms resilience to climate change?

Planting trees within and around the coffee fields helps protect the crops. Thanks to their canopy and rooting system, they reduce the impact of climate deregulations. They generate multiple benefits for these farmers and their ecosystem : natural soil enrichment with nitrogen and organic matter, erosion reduction, water depollution and regulation, biodiversity regeneration. Moreover, trees offer diversified sources of income to farmers : fruits, timber, fuelwood, medicines, and they value the land. High valued tree species can serve as well as a "safety net" for farmers, to pay for schooling or medical fees, some call them their "pension fund", as they plan to cut some of these trees when they retire to cover their expenses. We've listed more than 100 benefits of trees.

Trees are one of the best investment you can make on Earth. It costs a few euros and takes a few minutes to plant, and then it will generate multiple economic and ecosystem services (soil, water, biodiversity...) for many years, and for free. What else ?

What is the agroforestry approach that you work on with Nespresso? 

All agroforestry projects are fully designed and developed by the coffee farmers and their organizations. We assist them technically, but they choose and plant the trees, they maintain and monitor them, and also replant the ones that die. They only plant native or fruit trees and with diversity in varieties. They  do not use any chemicals to fertilize the trees; on the contrary, the trees will actually nurture the soil.

We work at landscape level. It means not only advising and helping the farmer to plant inside and around the coffee fields, but in the whole watershed that they depend upon. For example in Colombia, Guatemala and Ethiopia, we plant along water sources and streams and on slopes prone to landslides, upstream the coffee fields.  Trees intercropped within coffee fields provide to farmers timber, fuelwood, fruits and medecines. They reinforce their farm resilience and revenues.

Nespresso is funding the whole program, with a very ambitious commitment to plant 10 million trees by 2020. This allows to create multiple positive impacts on soil, water, biodiversity, farmers’ revenues, and of course on the quality of the coffees sourced for Nespresso Grands Crus.  This vision is called the positive cup, a coffee that leaves no trace, except its taste and positive impacts in the coffee regions. We're proud to be onboard such an innovative and ambitious program.

Let's not forget as well that, anyway, coffee is a forest specie. So it is all natural to bring back more trees in coffee fields, because that's where coffee is coming from: the forest. Nespresso's program is part of a global vision, not only to deliver Grands Crus, but as well to have them produced on state of the art agroforestry farms, because, this is the future of agriculture and the original ecosystem of coffee.

You have introduced the concept of insetting. What is it? Why is it relevant to businesses?

What we like is that the Nespresso teams and partners are fully mobilized from fields to cups on multiple sustainability stakes via numerous complimentary projects within Nespresso’s own supply chain. Agroforestry is just one. It goes from sustainable farming methods, pension funds for farmers, water management programs, responsible aluminium sourcing,  technical innovations at factories to reduce the dependencies on natural resources, capsule and machines end-of-life management .  For each of those initiatives, Nespresso’s approach is to go beyond compliance to deliver positive impacts and ultimately create shared value.  The Agroforestry Program is one of the latest initiative which definitely fits into this big picture. We at Pur Projet consider all these efforts in the concept of “Insetting”.

Those efforts embed the idea of compensating the global social and environmental footprint of a company within its own value chain, while offsetting is usually applied for the compensation of a company Carbon footprint outside its value chain.

We believe that insetting is a more powerful approach because businesses can change the system from within their own supply chains, core business and values. As well, we feel it is a great way to shift climate strategies from niche to mainstream and target multiple impacts beyond carbon. Nespresso has taken the lead with their Positive Cup vision, translating into a holistic 2020 sustainable plan supported by significant investment. We hope it will create a global movement for radical change among many more companies and governments. We need it, for the benefit of all.

Read more here about the Nespresso approach to agroforestry