What is Agroforestry?
Agroforestry is the conscious integration of trees, crops, and sometimes livestock, within a single agricultural system. This isn’t merely planting trees amid crops; it's a strategic design that aims to increase biodiversity on the land, improve soil health, yields, and offer food security through diversity of crops. This multifaceted approach to agriculture isn't just a benefit for coffee producers and the natural ecosystems, it can also influence the taste profiles and increase cup scores.
The term 'agroforestry' might not be part of your daily lexicon as a coffee buyer or roaster, but understanding it could deepen the impact of your sourcing decisions because coffee from farms with agroforesty systems in place are prioritising sustainability and quality above everything else.
Before we delve deeper into Coffee Agroforestry in Peru, it's helpful to understand the country's current coffee landscape.
The Peruvian Coffee Landscape
From a business perspective, Peru is a goldmine for high-quality green coffee. The country ranks among the top 10 coffee producers globally and is one of the leading producers in organic coffee production.
Many small holder coffee producers across the country, especailly in Northern regions like San Martin and Amazonas already practice sustainable agriculture. Agroforestry, which has been gaining traction, is a crucial part of this sustainability complex. By integrating coffee cultivation with native tree planting, legumes, other fruit trees, coffee producers are enhancing biodiversity, boosting soil health, and even mitigating some of the impacts of climate change.
Peru's coffee landscape is as rich and complex as the coffee flavour profiles. However, understanding the market's intricacies is crucial for making informed decisions that align with your values and those of your customers.
In this next section, we will guide you through the significance of coffee in Peru’s economy, the regional nuances in coffee production, and a look into organic and conventional farming practices.
The Significance of Coffee in Peru’s Economy
Coffee is more than just a beverage in Peru; it's a livelihood for tens of thousands of families and a significant export product, accounting for a substantial share of the country's national revenue. This isn't just about numbers; it’s about community impact. As coffee buyers and for coffee roasters, we’re not just buying beans; we’re supporting an ecosystem of coffee producers, agronomists, traders and mostly, families.
This, in turn, has profound economic effects on communities by improving education, healthcare, and local infrastructure. Knowing the economic gravity of our purchasing decisions adds a level of responsibility and also presents an opportunity for positive impact.
Regional Distribution of Coffee Production
Peru's varied geography, from the Andes mountains to the Amazon basin, offers a palette of different growing conditions and, therefore, a range of unique flavour profiles. Many regions like Amazonas and Cajamarca have different flavour profiles to Cusco and Junin for example. As a roaster, this regional diversity can be your playground. Within these different coffee regions, they all have varying levels of access and infrastructure, from school education to international markets. Your choices can, therefore, act as drivers to improving production and living standards across these regions.
Organic vs. Conventional Farming Practices
The organic wave has hit the coffee industry hard, and Peru is at the forefront of this movement. But what does "organic" really mean in the context of Peruvian coffee farming?
Many smallholder coffee producers in Peru use Island Guano (above), to fertilise their farms. This is a bird manure mix that comes from the Guano Islands just off the coast of Peru. However, this doesn't mean that they are organic certified unless they choose to pay for the certificate and enroll on a program where their farm is inspected and reviewed.
On the other side, conventional farming, growing one or few crops using fertiliers, herbacides and pesticdes has its advantages, such as higher yields and often, more consistent quality. However, over time the soil health of these farms degrade and the inputs to give vitality to the soil increases, thus increasing costs over the long term.
Understanding the Peruvian coffee landscape's complexities is crucial for making sourcing decisions that are not only economically savvy but also ethically and environmentally sound. As the bridge between Peruvian coffee producers and international consumers, we can all play a pivotal role in shaping this landscape for the better.
Challenges Facing Peruvian Coffee Farmers
In this section, we will discuss the pressing issues that Peruvian coffee producers face, issues that could directly or indirectly affect our sourcing and your purchasing. We will cover price volatility and market access, the growing concerns about ageing populations and demographics, and the dark shadows cast by climate change and soil degradation.
Below is Cornelios Sebastiang, a coffee producer from Junin, showing us how a small area of his farm had a phosphorus deficiency. A common sight at farms when they either have degraded soils or not applied enough fertiliser throughout the harvest. Fortunately for Cornelios, it was the latter.
Price Volatility and Market Access
When we buy coffee, from a coffee roaster, cafe or supermarket, it's easy to overlook the complex pricing mechanisms that dictate how much a coffee producer earns for their produce. Peruvian coffee producers are at the mercy of the global commodity markets, which can be notoriously volatile. When prices drop, they are one of the first to feel the pinch. Moreover, limited market access makes it difficult to pivot toward more profitable sales channels. This is one of the reasons many small holder producers in Peru become part of a coffee cooperative, in order to access larger markets and sell their coffee as a collective.
Creating more direct trade initatives between producers and roasters is one way to provide stability and insulate producers from some of the volatity that the commodity market can inflict. Coffee producers who have these relationships in place can start to predict their income and invest further in their coffee quality and their farms sustainability, such as the design of an agroforestry system and deciding to plant native tree species instead of more coffee. Below is from Finca Morales in the Amazonas region, where coffee producer, Roiber Beccera, has created an coffee agroforestry system and intercrops pine trees to provide shade to his coffee trees.
Ageing Plantations and Demographics
It's not just the coffee trees that are ageing; it’s also the people tending to them. Younger generations are increasingly moving to urban areas in Peru, the capital city Lima and coffee region capitals such as Cusco are popular, where people are seeking opportunities that seem less arduous and more lucrative than farming. This demographic shift is making it difficult to sustain the labour-intensive coffee farms.
Directly engaging with coffee associations and cooperatives can help rejuvenate the many coffee communities in Peru, ensuring that age-old farming wisdom is passed down to the next generation while integrating new, efficient farming techniques. Many of the much needed technical assitance to improve quality through post harvest practices are delivered by association and cooperatives, investing in their members helps to increase the quality. For instance, we have been told by producers that the post-harvesting technique of fermenting in cherry before pulping has increased cup scores from 84 to 86.
Environmental Threats: Climate Change and Soil Degradation
Climate change is not a distant reality; it's a pressing issue impacting Peruvian coffee farms right now. Altered weather patterns and rising temperatures have hit coffee producers hard in 2023, especially those in lower altitude regions such as San Martin who have experienced the return of La Roya (coffee leaf rust). Below is a leaf from the a coffee farm expriencing La Roya in the lower altitude (1400m) region of San Martin.
La Roya has spread like wildfire and drying temperatures have been difficult to control. This has caused reduced yields, especailly in naturals, and increased pest activity. In addition to all of this, soil degradation jeopardises the long-term viability of coffee production for many across Peru. As coffee buyers, ourselves alongside roasters, the commitment to sourcing from farms that employ sustainable practices not only ensures the quality of our coffees but also fortifies the environmental resilience of the farming communities we rely on.
Below is from the same farm in San Martin and it shows how the La Roya has spread across this part of the farm and completely decimated all coffee trees.
Our sourcing choices can be a lifeline for Peruvian coffee producers, mitigating the impact of these challenges. But more than that, they can transform these challenges into opportunities for innovation and growth, both in Peru and in the cup!
Back to Agroforestry
This isn’t a fad or a niche practice; agroforestry is a global movement. In Europe, it’s seen as a way to restore soil health and boost agricultural output. In Africa, it’s a tool for combating desertification and improving food security. By sourcing coffee from agroforestry systems, we’re part of a global chain that promotes sustainability and resilience.
Historical Context in Peru
Agroforestry is not a foreign concept in Peru either. For centuries, indigenous communities have practiced forms of agroforestry, weaving a tapestry of traditional knowledge that modern farmers have adopted. The Andean region, in particular, showcases the intricate balance between plants, animals, and humans, creating an agricultural heritage that is as rich as the food it produces.
Coffee Agroforestry Design
Designing the coffee agroforestry system to complement the size of the farm, the current health of the soil, climate and access to resources are all factors in the success and sustainability of this approach. When designing a system you have to consider layers of vegetation, what roles each layer will play in creating a diverse and biodiverse ecosystem. The aim is to mimic natural forest structures to provide the ecological benefits as well as a productive food forest and coffee farm.
6 Layers in a Coffee Agroforestry System
- Canopy Layer
Usually the tallest layer, often composed of larger trees that provide shade, crucial for coffee plants. The canopy layer also helps regulate the microclimate, conserves moisture, and provides a habitat for various bird species. Inga and fig trees are common in canopy layers.
- Sub-Canopy Layer
This layer may consist of shorter fruit trees such as banana, passion fruit, guava, macadamia nuts, generally, any layer that can provide shade and fixes nitrogen in the soil. These trees create a lot of organic matter that can be used later when replenishing and feeding the soil.
- Shrub Layer
This is where coffee trees are usually found. They benefit from the shade and nutrient-rich environment created by the upper layers. This layer can also include other shrubs or crops that are compatible with coffee, for example, fruit shrubs like blackberries, and spice shrubs such as cardamom and vanilla.
- Herbaceous Layer
Includes cover crops, medicinal plants, or vegetables that can be grown between coffee shrubs. They help in structuring the soil, reducing the soil erosion from water and wind, while also providing an additional source of income and/or food source. Legumes are great for this.
- Ground Layer
This is where the organic matter from the higher layers can be used and help the herbaceous layers flourish and continue the soil structuring. This is a crucial step that allows the soil to become air tight, protected and help retain more moisture. This moisture helps when there are droughts and builds a resilience in the system to weather tougher times. Organic fertilisers such as manure, mulch and prunings of plants can be used here.
- Root Layer
The part we don’t see! This is where all the roots of the plants, shrubs and trees are interacting and nurturing one another. It’s where the worms are breaking down the organic matter and turning it into fertiliser for the plants by making it into a form of nitrogen the plants can access. It’s also where new bacterias and microorganisms are being created so that the soil can store nitrogen, carbon and increase water availability.
Designing and structuring the coffee agroforestry in this way is complex, requires expertise to set up and training to manage. However, once this is in place, the return on investment can quickly outweighs the cost, sometimes within 1 harvest. It’s also been noted that this use of a system can bring forward the first harvest of coffee to 2 years (usually 3) and improve the quality of the first harvest cherries (usually not so good).
Benefits of Implementing Agroforestry in Coffee Production
From environmental resilience to economic stability, coffee grown under agroforestry systems offers a range of advantages that are beginning to resonate with coffee buyers across the world. Let's delve into these benefits in detail, breaking down what they mean for the environment, the economy, and the well-being of communities involved in coffee production.
Agroforestry isn't just a trend; it's a necessity for ecological health. The integration of different plant species promotes biodiversity. From a coffee roasters perspective, this translates into a wide array of flavour profiles available, as the coffee cherry’s quality is profoundly influenced by its environment.
- Carbon Sequestration
Carbon footprints are a concern across the coffee industry. When sourcing from agroforestry farms, you're essentially investing in a natural carbon offset mechanism, as these systems are proven to sequester carbon dioxide.
- Soil Conservation
Healthy soil equals healthy plants, resulting in coffee beans of superior quality. Agroforestry systems are excellent in preventing soil erosion and improving fertility, promising long-term agricultural sustainability. It does this through balancing the storage and delivery of key nutrients such as nitrogen, phospohrus, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron through stonger and more resilient mycelium networks that thrive from a diverse amount of microganisms present in the soil.
Weather extremes and pest outbreaks pose a risk to any agricultural product, including coffee. Agroforestry's diversified plant species serve as a natural risk mitigation strategy. For example, Inga edulis, a tropical fruit tree, has been shown to lower infestations of the brown twig beetle, a pest similar to the coffee borer beetle that disrupts to passing of nutrients in coffee trees.
Above is an image of a farm in Moyobamba, San Martin region, recently implementing an agroforestry system where a young banana tree is growing, alongside coffee trees flowering and older native tree species.
Economic & Social Gains
Diversified Income Streams
Agroforestry systems don't just grow coffee; for the system to be integrative it has to have complimentary crops such as legumes, bananas, ginger and garlic growing alongside it. This can help coffee producers live off their land, diversify their income streams and become less financially vulnerable to the coffee market price.
Social and Psychological Benefits
n a market where people can create a positive impact with their purchases, the social and psychological advantages of agroforestry can be a strong selling point. These systems contribute to the happiness and well-being of the farming communities. Sourcing coffee from these environments allows us to share stories of positive impact, adding emotional and economic value to the coffee we source, roasters buy and consumers drink.
Agroforestry is not just a farming approach; it's a story of integration and balance, echoing themes that are increasingly critical in a world grappling with climate change, economic inequality, creating social tensions. It’s a powerful movement that can create meaningful change for those in coffee producing countries and those in consuming countries.
Limitations and Challenges of Agroforestry in Coffee Production
While agroforestry represents a commendable approach to sustainable coffee farming, it's important to understand the limitations and challenges as well. Being informed about these aspects allows us all to navigate the complexities and contribute meaningfully to the conversation. After all, acknowledging these hurdles is the first step toward creating more resilient, equitable, and sustainable coffee supply chains.
Agroforestry systems are labour-intensive, involving a wide range of tasks such as planting, pruning, weeding, and harvesting different types of crops and trees. You might find that this labour intensity can lead to higher costs, which get transferred down the supply chain. The bright side? A commitment to agroforestry usually implies better working conditions and fairer wages for workers.
Potential for Reduced Yields
Agroforestry's focus on biodiversity and sustainability can result in lower yields per crop, including coffee, this is not always the case but as the aim is to diversify the land, a potential trade off would be lower yields compared to monocropping. This may mean you have to grapple with supply fluctuations. It's important to view this through a longer-term lens, considering that what may be sacrificed in yield is often gained in quality and resilience.
Land Tenure and Policy Barriers
For those seeking long-term relationships with coffee producers, the issue of land tenure can be a significant concern. Many smallholder farmers don't have secure property rights and land titles , making it difficult for them to invest in long-term sustainability projects like agroforestry. Moreover, policy barriers can stifle the adoption of agroforestry practices. As stakeholders in this industry, buyers and roasters have a voice that can advocate for changes in these policies. Whether it's through direct lobbying or consumer education, our unique perspectives and insights can be vital in facilitating a more supportive environment for coffee agroforestry.
Understanding these limitations can empower us all to make informed choices and possibly even drive innovations in how we source and promote Peruvian coffee. As a bridge between producers and consumers, coffee buyers and roasters play a pivotal role in elevating the discussion around the challenges and opportunities presented by coffee agroforestry. By acknowledging both the upsides and downsides, we’re better equipped to promote a more nuanced and comprehensive view of what sustainable coffee production can, and should look like.
Case Studies and Real-world Examples of Agroforestry in Coffee Production
As a coffee importer with a vested interest in the sustainable and equitable development of our coffee supply chains, examining case studies and real-world examples provide invaluable insights. These stories not only showcase the practicality and efficacy of coffee agroforestry but also highlight lessons that could be applied in the Peruvian context. Understanding these can equip us all to make more informed sourcing decisions and engage in impactful storytelling about sustainability.
Successful Agroforestry Projects in Peru
In Peru, several projects serve as a testament to the potential of agroforestry in sustainable coffee production. For example, Envol-Vert, an organisation that works with coffee producers in Peru to help them plant native timber, fruit, and auxiliary trees that are designed to restore degraded agricultural areas under an agroforestry system.
Cafe Selva Norte, an alliance between a group of cooperatives in northern Peru, work together with coffee producers to implement agroforestry practices so that they can increase their coffee quality, resilience of supply chains and export together as a collective with stronger supply dynamics in play.
Finally, another example of a small scale producer that won the Rainforest Alliance Change Award in 2018 is Juan Jimenez Montenegro. Juan and his family at Santa Rosa Farm transitioned their farm from a monocrop farm to now a multi-crop, productive ecosystem utilising the coffee agroforestry system.
Global Examples and Lessons for Peru
Looking beyond Peru, countries like Ethiopia and Colombia have also had successes with agroforestry in coffee production. Ethiopia's coffee forests are often cited as a gold standard for biodiversity and coffee quality, attributes that command premium prices on the global market. Colombia has similarly been a frontrunner in incorporating agroforestry systems within its national coffee strategy.
Agroforestry practices have been used to reforest plots of land, previously used as cattle farmland. Converting them to coffee farms with an emphasis on restoring and reintroducing native plants along with coffee plants, which in turn increases the speed of soil health regeneration. This happens as the new plants and tree species introduced to the degraded soil welcomes new flora and fauna that creates biodiversity and allows for nutrients in the soil to be stored. Increasing moisture storage and allowing for the mycelium networks to flourish and build deeper roots across and under the surface.
Moving away from cattle herding to coffee can be a challenging task, but if done right can introduce specialty coffee to new regions and expand lesser known areas, whilst reversing the impact of deforestation. This was the case at Ninety Plus Gesha Estates.
Whether it’s the way Ethiopia has managed to preserve heirloom coffee varieties or Colombia’s innovative farmer education programs, these global lessons offer a number of ideas that are being adapted to enhance the sustainability and profitability of Peru's coffee sector.
These case studies and real-world examples not only enrich our understanding of the complexities and potentials in the coffee-agroforestry landscape, but they help to identify avenues for businesses to contribute positively. Whether through direct investment, partnerships, or consumer education, understanding the real-world impact of agroforestry positions us all as conscientious players in a chain that extends from soil to sip.
Strategic Considerations for Implementation of Agroforestry in Coffee Production
Implementing agroforestry is known to be a complex task. If Peru is to capitalise on the potential benefits agroforestry offers to its coffee sector, it will require multi-dimensional strategies encompassing policy, community engagement, financial planning and financial support from exporters, importers and coffee roasters. Each of these components not only influences the feasibility and success of agroforestry projects but also affects the quality and sustainability of the coffee that we will end up importing for coffee roasters.
While some headway has been made in incorporating agroforestry into Peru's national agricultural policy, with the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MINAGRI and the Ministry of Environment(MINAM) working together with international organisations and project partners to create the Low Carbon Coffee Project . This project aims to move the sector towards zero deforestation, increase sustainable yields, and reduce environmental impacts.
It involves capacity development, support for sustainable agricultural methods like shade tree planting, and the introduction of green credit lines for technologies that contribute to increased productivity and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The project is designed to achieve a significant reduction in greenhouse gases, with a portion of the reduction coming from agroforestry-related activities.
However, this is only targeting 10,000 coffee producers and is not yet in motion. More specific initiatives targeting the coffee sector are needed because there are 223,000 people in Peru that are involved in coffee production.
Policymakers for example could create incentives for coffee producers to adopt agroforestry, such as tax breaks or subsidised tree seedlings. These policies can make the transition to agroforestry more attractive for producers and, by extension, provide us all with a larger pool of sustainably-grown coffee to source from. A few other initiatives that would be useful for policy makers to address could include but not limited to:
- Financial incentives or subsidies for adopting agroforestry practices
- Technical assistance and training for coffee producers
- Research and development support to innovate agroforestry techniques
- Market access support for products grown in agroforestry systems
- Certification and labelling that highlight the sustainable nature of agroforestry-grown coffee
Community involvement is crucial for the successful implementation of agroforestry in coffee production. Locally-led initiatives, perhaps funded or supported by ourselves and agronomists we work with and in partnership with coffee roasters can provide education and training to coffee producers. These programs can help demystify agroforestry and equip communities with the tools they need for successful implementation. For coffee roasters, being involved in these engagement activities not only secures a sustainable supply chain but also establishes a brand story centred around genuine social impact.
Financial Planning and Funding Options
Finally, the issue of funding is hard to ignore. Agroforestry systems require an initial investment that can be burdensome for smallholder coffee producers. Various funding options could be explored, such as microloans, crowdfunding, or public-private partnerships.
As coffee buyers working with coffee roasters, we believe that a direct investment or long-term sourcing contracts could provide the financial security needed for coffee producers to make this transition. Our roles in this financial landscape can vary from passive to active engagement—whether that means choosing to source from farms that have successfully transitioned to agroforestry, or taking the more proactive route of funding these transitions ourselves.
Understanding these strategic considerations can guide us all in making more informed decisions about where and how we source Peruvian coffee. It also offers the chance to be a part of the larger conversation about sustainability in coffee production, aligning to the values of many coffee roasters and even more coffee drinkers.
Role of Technology in Coffee Agroforestry
In today's world, technology has a profound impact on almost every sector, and agriculture is no exception. Those of us who are keen on sustainability and coffee excellence, understanding the role technology plays in coffee agroforestry could offer a significant advantage through reduced cost and improved efficiency.
This is especially true when sourcing from a diverse and challenging landscape like Peru. Here’s how technology can make a difference in coffee agroforestry systems and consequently influence the quality and sustainability of the coffee beans that we import.
Precision Agriculture and IoT
Internet of Things (IoT) technology, such as soil sensors and drones, is revolutionising precision agriculture. These tools allow farmers to monitor soil moisture levels, nutrient content, and even predict pest attacks. This is not something we have come across yet in Peru but the technology is there.
With the incoming EU Deforestation Directive coming into play at the end of 2025, the technology investment on farms may have to increase to map their coordinates, therefore, this IoT technology may take a back seat for now as it’s an additional cost that isn’t needed in order to export.
A Few Examples for Coffee Agroforestry
Soil Moisture and Nutrient Monitoring
IoT sensors can be deployed throughout a coffee agroforestry system to monitor soil moisture and nutrient levels. This data can be used to optimise irrigation and fertilisation, ensuring that coffee plants receive the right amount of water and nutrients at the right time. This precision approach can lead to more efficient use of resources and potentially higher yields.
Coffee trees are sensitive to their microclimate. IoT sensors can measure temperature, humidity, light intensity, and other environmental factors. By analysing this data, coffee producers can make informed decisions about planting, pruning, and harvesting. For example, if sensors detect an unexpected drop in temperature, farmers can take measures to protect the plants from frost.
Pest and Disease Detection
IoT devices equipped with cameras and image recognition software can monitor coffee plants for signs of pests and diseases. Early detection allows for timely intervention, reducing the need for broad-spectrum pesticides and promoting a more sustainable agroforestry environment.
Climate Modeling for Tree and Crop Selection
Sophisticated climate modelling software can help coffee producers choose the most suitable tree species for their coffee agroforestry systems. It can predict how different species will react to anticipated weather patterns and climate changes, thereby ensuring long-term sustainability. Working with farms that implement this software can ensure a sustainable yield, reducing the risk of supply chain disruptions due to unsuitable crop-tree pairings.
Data Analytics for Yield Prediction
Advanced data analytics tools can forecast yields based on multiple variables like soil conditions, weather patterns, and even market trends. Mapping farms to understand the soil distribution is an example that can provide coffee producers with a better idea of the soil mineral content and therefore improve efficiency with fertiliser use (for both organic fertiliser and non-organic fertiliser cases). This example can bring down the costs of production while also increasing the yield at the same time.
For us, this can make our sourcing volumes more predictable, and for coffee roasters, the possibility of entering long-term contracts with confidence. Plus, these data insights can be invaluable for larger farms and even cooperatives inventory management and marketing strategies, allowing for a more efficient and profitable operation.
By understanding the role of technology in coffee agroforestry, we’re not only better positioned to make informed sourcing decisions but also to contribute to the sector’s sustainable development. With these tools, coffee producers and coffee cooperatives can achieve optimal conditions for both coffee and companion crops, resulting in a better coffee for us and a more resilient system for them. If the costs become accessible, It’s a win-win situation that also happens to be good for the planet.
The Future Outlook: A Roaster's Guide to Peruvian Coffee Agroforestry
As we've navigated through the complexities of Peruvian coffee agroforestry, it's clear that this system is not merely a farming technique but a holistic approach that has the potential to revolutionise the Peruvian coffee sector. For coffee roasters looking to make impactful choices in sourcing, understanding the intricacies of this system provides valuable insights into the quality, sustainability, and even the flavour profiles of the coffee beans.
For coffee roasters, the onus is on sourcing responsibly. Choosing to work with farms and cooperatives that are engaged in sustainable agroforestry practices is becoming more viable in Peru. Consider investing in farms that are keen on adopting technology for better yield and sustainability. Establish transparent supply chains and be open to long-term relationships that can provide both the coffee producers and yourselves with more stability.
In the end, Peruvian coffee agroforestry is an exciting frontier that offers both opportunities and challenges. By becoming more informed and taking proactive steps, ourselves, alongside coffee roasters can be a significant force in pushing this sustainable farming method to new heights. Whether it’s through responsible sourcing, technology adoption, or research funding, the potential for making a positive impact is immense.
Now is a perfect time to create and further develop supply chains in Peru for coffee because there are many private, public and non governmental organisations interested in improving the sustainability, quality and livelihoods of coffee producing families and their communities.
Information & Data Sources
Reports from theInternational Coffee Organization
All images have been taken by ourselves from visiting in 2022 and 2023 or sent to us by people we work with in Peru.