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What Does Sustainable Coffee Farming Mean?

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Sustainability is a word that has been in the headlines lately, with more and more people leaning toward the organic farm-to-fork trend, who want to know their food was ethically grown and responsibly sourced.  But what does "sustainability" actually mean?

While there's no one true definition, sustainability incorporates farming practices that rely less on man-made and non-renewable resources and focus more on natural methods that preserve resources. For example, a lot of coffee farmers are reusing the water from their bean fermentation process to irrigate the coffee trees instead of pumping in fresh water, and using the coffee husks as a natural fertilizer instead of pouring chemicals into the ground.

Conservation of resources is only one aspect of sustainable coffee farming. Sustainability also refers to practices that enable farmers to increase their crop yields as well as increase their profits and live better lives. The Sustainable Coffee Program is an initiative of the newly created Global Coffee Platform, which seeks to standardize sustainable and environmentally-friendly farming methods and reach across all lines from stakeholders to farmers to traders to retailers. Their goal is

"...to aid over 4 million coffee farmers in becoming more resilient, and to implement social and environmentally friendly coffee farming techniques. This will increase yield quality and quantity, and will also increase sustainable land use, helping to reduce poverty and protect the environment."

According to the Rainforest Alliance, most coffee was grown under the shade of the rainforest canopy until about the 1970s, when the demand for higher crop yields led farmers to start using full-sun varieties. The need for full sun resulted in deforestation, soil depleted of nutrients and washed away by erosion, as well as pollution from chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Since organizations like the Sustainable Coffee Program and the Rainforest Alliance stepped in to improve farming methods, the lives of individual farmers have also improved. A study in 2013 of over 500 coffee farms in Ethiopia reported that farms that were Rainforest Alliance certified saw earnings 15-20% higher than conventional farms. The study also found that the farmers enjoyed the benefits of learning how to live more hygienically themselves, as well as learning how to protect their natural resources, such as watersheds, through recycling and proper pesticide handling. Farmers in Mexico are enjoying bigger cash profits by learning how to compost and prune coffee trees to maximize crop yield.

So the next time you purchase coffee and see that it is certified sustainable, know that as a consumer you are doing your part to encourage environmentally-friendly farming practices, as well as supporting those whose livelihoods depend on every little coffee bean. Feel free to contact us for more information on where we source our beans. 

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