Sowing the Future of Coffee Growing: Our Sustainable Production Program in Santa Maria – Huila

Juan Cañas
Juan Cañas

Have you ever stopped to ponder the impact of your morning cup of coffee?

At The Coffee Quest, the question above has been one of our focal points since the beginning. Sustainability is a vibrant and beautiful word, but achieving it requires thoughtful work, a lot of effort, and knowledge — the lack of knowledge and know-how is the main concern and reason why most producers do not follow organic or sustainable production at their farms.

Conventional coffee farming relies heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to maximize yield. While these methods can boost short-term productivity (and at first glance, more profitability), they wreak havoc on our ecosystems. Excessive use of chemicals leads to soil erosion, water pollution, and harm to essential pollinators. Moreover, these practices can take a toll on the well-being of farmers and workers exposed to hazardous substances.

Identifying these key factors led us to the conclusion that, to achieve long-lasting relationships, where we grow together with our producers, we needed to tackle the lack of knowledge at the farm-level, and the technification of production practices, which eventually leads to Sustainable and Organic Coffee Production.

Table of Contents

Origin

Our Sustainable Coffee Production Program in Santa Maria – Huila was born from the alliance between National Parks of Colombia (Parques Nacionales), The Coffee Quest, and an assembly of over 20 committed and inventive producers from the region.

One of our key goals is to encourage Coffee Producers in the region to build their businesses via organic and sustainable production. By understanding their specific needs, nurturing their potential, and fostering deeper relationships, we feel confident they will find success in this new transition.

Our Scope

We aim to teach and train producers on how to grow sustainably, tackling the following main issues:

Even non-coffee producers are welcome to join our efforts: with the word beginning to spread, our team in the field has gained some recognition within the community,, encouraging them and us to keep pursuing and growing this project.

We are extremely proud of this project and hope to inspire others to change how coffee is produced, commercialized, and enjoyed around the globe.

So, let’s discuss this project further!

 

Meet The Team

TMO - Organic Cert Pic

This program boasts a dedicated agronomist, Edilberto Becerra, at the helm.

Born in Garzón, Huila, Edilberto has proven to be a cornerstone addition to our Sustainable Production Program. He has a really clear mission: restore the land’s nurturing power by making it a haven for organic coffee farming. 

And do you remember we mentioned our team gaining recognition in the region? Well, we meant Edilberto, who is spearheading the program at the farm level, bringing Sustainability Practices to every interested producer. 

Marco Marin, our Social Impact Coordinator, is the driving force and godfather to this project. 

His passion and tireless efforts have paved the way to making this project possible, by shaping each milestone and outcome. And the reason you are reading this is thanks to his constant supervision and oversight on this journey.

This project means more than producing quality coffee — it’s about healing traditional coffee growing, paving the future of this craft, and improving the quality of life for both producers and their surrounding ecosystems..

Changing Mindsets and Reducing Chemical Usage

We knew from the get-go that one of the first steps towards our Quest for sustainability was changing the mindset of coffee producers, who have been cultivating coffee a certain way for generations. However, we’ve witnessed a profound shift in mindsets, mainly due to the volatile C-market, which has favored Added Value at the farm level.

This departure of old ways has paved the way for a new era of thinking, one where growers are deeply aware of the ecological impacts, and the economic benefits that organic production can bring.

Education and Workshops:

Each Friday, a workshop is held on a dedicated farm, where all producers can learn to craft their own bio-products for pest and disease management. Led by Edilberto Becerra, these hands-on sessions (rotating from farm to farm, so all knowledge is put into practice) also explore how to turn organic waste into rich fertilizers through composting.

The creation of these organic fertilizers contributes to a beneficial soil microbiota, a crucial aspect of healthy coffee plant development, which directly impacts their capacity to absorb available nutrients.

From Seed to Cup

Something that we did not consider at the start is that seeds play an important part in organic and sustainable production. 

And that is why we joined forces with a local Nursery, where we started to shape the idea of Certifying the whole Supply Chain, from Seed to Cup. This means that we will be able to ensure the traceability of varieties.

The first cost analysis at the coffee nursery showed a reduction of approximately 15% in the production costs of coffee seedlings. The farmer in turn reports an improvement in the physical appearance of the seedlings, which they described as having a much thicker stem, a much more vigorous root, and better-looking, healthier leaves.

Agroforestry and Economic Benefits

Our commitment goes beyond sustainable practices. Native trees have found their home within the coffee crops (thanks to our collaboration with National Parks), elevating biodiversity. Several of these Native Trees are:

  •  Carbonero
  •  Cachingo
  •  Urapan
  • Ocobo Amarillo y Rosado
  • Arrayan
  • Nogal
  • Chachafruto
  • Guamo
  • Nísperos
  • Flor Morado
  • Flor Amarillo
  • Dormilón
  • Chocho
  • Cerillo
  • Arboloco
  • Cope
  • Nacedero

And legume seeds such as:

  • Tefrosia
  • Guandú

Aside from that, nitrogen-fixing plants have been introduced as “living barriers” in the middle of the crops to separate plots or other nearby farms, thus serving a dual purpose. This agroforestry approach, not only strengthens the ecological equilibrium but also forms a barrier against erosion and pests.

On the other hand, the coffee producers have shown a reduction in the total costs of foliage spraying with agrochemicals by changing to bio-preparations made by themselves in the training sessions led by TCQ. The producers say this has not only had an impact on their financial situation but also on their health, as these bio-sprays are not harmful.

Participants have reported a reduction in chemical fertilization by 30% to 50% per year!

Although we aim to reduce chemical fertilization by 100%, the reduction achieved this past year has been considerable.

Improved Ecosystem and Community Building:

Another important indicator to mention is the significant improvement in crop ecosystems due to better farming practices implemented. With the reduction of chemical use, there is a greater proliferation of life in the crops, demonstrating a better balance within the ecosystems.

The project has also proved not only a change in farming practices; it’s a catalyst for community building.

The Workshops we have held each Friday, have transcended theory and extend into practice as each session is paired with field visits. Here, teamwork is the protagonist, as farmers work side by side to craft bio-preparations, developing a strong sense of community. It’s a place for the exchange of knowledge, an opportunity to share experiences (both positive and negative), and above all — a space for growth.

These spaces for the community are really important since they motivate each producer to improve their infrastructure, implement composting pits, and install water filters in their farms, which all in all, is the starting point of a much bigger endeavor.

Next Steps...

Our commitment to Organic Certification and Sustainable Production extends beyond the aforementioned initiatives. In the upcoming years, we aim to broaden our scope and be a reference in the country by implementing the following as our next steps::

  • Planting of Living Barriers Continuation: We will continue to plant living barriers, which play a crucial role in enhancing biodiversity, preventing soil erosion, and promoting a healthier ecosystem around Santa María’s (And eventually, Colombia’s) coffee farms.

  • Increased Presence of Nitrogen-Fixing Species: To enhance soil fertility and reduce the need for external fertilizers, we will actively increase the presence of leguminous and other nitrogen-fixing species in the middle of coffee crops.

  • New Producers’ Certification (July 2024): We plan to extend the benefits of organic certification to new producers by facilitating their certification process. By July 2024, we aim to welcome more producers into this process.

  • Trees Census on Each Farm: Conducting a comprehensive census of trees on each farm ensures a detailed understanding of the existing flora. This information helps us better plan and implement sustainable practices while preserving and enhancing the natural environment.

  • Carbon Credit Certification (Plants with Over 20 Years Lifespan): Pursuing certification for carbon credits from plants with a lifespan exceeding 20 years aligns with our commitment to offset carbon emissions. This initiative not only contributes to environmental sustainability but also supports the longevity of ecosystems.

As a company committed to the environment, our goal is to create a supply chain that has no impact on carbon emissions. We’re working to transform traditional production into a sustainable and mindful process.

Stay in the Loop!

This isn’t just a program, it’s a movement. The change isn’t just organic, it’s systemic. It’s about thinking beyond today and envisioning a future where every coffee bean comes from sustainable, clean, and organic cultivation.

As we sip from our coffee cups, let’s ponder how each sip can be a step towards a brighter, more organic, and more sustainable world.

The story continues.

If you’re a coffee producer, someone who cares about the environment, or a coffee enthusiast, consider joining us on this journey. Be part of the change, the transformation, and the growth. Together, we will sow the seeds of sustainability!

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