Biodiversity and Colombian coffee farmers: capacity building for added value
Grant aided by the Darwin Initiative through funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Counterpart funding provided by Cenicafé (Centro Nacional de Investigaciones del Café), Colombia.
Problem/Issue. Cenicafé has carried out excellent research on biodiversity, but this has not been extended to farmers, nor have their local knowledge and needs been assessed in order to accurately judge the best way to promote biodiverse coffee farming and realise its full commercial potential.
We know from previous and current studies that coffee farmers are facing severe difficulties and need to develop new ways to increase their income. We also know that it is very important to understand farmers' concepts and use appropriate language when imparting new ideas. There is increasing interest in the biodiversity aspects of coffee, especially in the US where decline in migratory bird numbers is linked to monocultural coffee production in Central and South America. But there are no known studies where farmers have been consulted about their concepts of biodiversity and no education programme to promote the advantages, nor concerted attempts to link all this to commercial companies in order to realise the true value of biodiverse coffee.
Measures to Date.
The Colombian Coffee Federation, of which Cenicafe is a part, has long championed environmentally sensitive coffee farming and has developed a rust-resistant variety and a zero-pollution method of wet coffee processing. Cenicafe's Conservation Biology Programme has carried out studies to characterise the biodiversity of coffee growing regions, and identified the factors that are favourable to bird life, and especially endangered species. They are exploring the opportunities that coffee offers for conservation, e.g. the use of woody ravines as biodiversity corridors.
More generally, the Government of Colombia has various inter-institutional projects with NGOs and government departments which include coffee in their sustainable production systems. In these projects they aim to utilise environmentally-friendly coffee as biodiversity corridors and as buffer zones to national parks. In the next few months the A von Humbolt Institute will begin a biodiversity study of Andean agrosystems; the part that involves coffee will include the collaboration of Cenicafe.
The project undertakes participatory rural assessments of farmer knowledge, biodiversity concepts and vocabulary used to provide data to prepare a field manual. The project will also develop contacts with commercial companies and hold a stake holder workshop to determine ways to promote and sell "biodiverse coffee". Pilot forest patches within the coffee region are also being identified and studied to assess their potential.
The project will assemble a database of plant and animal species with an extensive photo library that can be used in future promotional and commercial campaigns. It will also produce a draft biodiversity policy document for consideration by decision-makers
Achievements So Far
A very successful workshop for extensionists on methods of extracting information and perceptions from farmers.
An ambitious programme of farmer participatory studies has been undertaken with both individual and group encounters. An initial questionnaire was developed for semi-structured interviews with farmers and researchers. Researchers from Cenicafé then met with coffee extensionists and agreed to develop the project in two contrasting municipalities of the department of Caldas: Manizales and Palestina. Manizales is largely smallholder communities with traditional coffee producing technology under shade, whereas Palestina is characterised by intensive farms with little or no shade.
To date 40 farmers have been sampled and a lot of basic data has been collected from farmers on water and energy sources, chemical and other inputs to the farm, as well as some basic socio-economic data. An interesting statistic is that nearly half of farmers interviewed get some income from non-agricultural sources and over a half contract manual labour, both of which may have implications for how they manage their farms, use new information and handle change. Firewood sources are nearly all provided from the coffee part of the farm and there seems to be at least some water pollution control.
In addition to the above individual encounters, group meetings have been carried out with farmers and extensionists, in the municipality of Pereira. These have been with groups of 10 to 20 farmers at a time to ask them a variety of questions about the environment, their concepts of it and their main concerns.
Over 60 species of bird have been identified on farms during visits. Bird species and abundance will be used as bio-indicators for the areas studied.
A web-based database will be developed in to a full-scale site provisionally called Colombian Coffee and Biodiversity. This will have the dual function of providing information and promoting Colombian coffee to a wider audience and would include substantial data about the whole region, its flora, fauna, climate, farmers and coffee culture.
A stakeholders workshop will take place in September when the ICO is holding a conference in Colombia.
The process is underway
to identify forest remnants and reserves in the study area, with the assistance
of extensionists with local knowledge. An interdiscipliary committee has
been set up to develop a pilot plan to manage a local reserve known as
Plan Alto, which includes scientists from Cenicafé.
Dr. Peter Baker (International
End: March 2005