GROWING A SUSTAINABLE COFFEE FUTURE
THROUGH ITS INNOVATIVE AGROFORESTRY PROGRAM, NESPRESSO IS HELPING PROTECT THE PLANET AND COFFEE PRODUCTION.
Our morning cup of coffee is on the brink of extinction. According to a 2019 report by scientists at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, 60 percent of all wild coffee species could disappear in the coming decades due to worsening climatic conditions, deforestation, and the spread of fungal pathogens and pests. Climate change alone, experts predict, could cut the land suitable for Arabica coffee production in half by 2050.
Nespresso is working to ensure this doesn’t happen. To protect the planet and coffee production, the company is battling climate change from the ground up by planting millions of trees. By 2020, Nespresso plans to have added five million new trees to its coffee-producing regions in Colombia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Planting trees offsets harmful carbon emissions, helping Nespresso achieve its goal of carbon neutrality—and helps coffee-farming families build sustainable futures by improving soil quality and ensuring long-term quality coffee production.
For Nespresso, trees are one of the essential keys to a sustainable future—not only of high-quality coffee but of the world’s rich coffee-growing cultures. As Arnaud Deschamps, CEO of Nespresso France explains in a recent interview, “You plant trees to offset your emissions. You help farmers with better land, better ecosystems and better revenues, so their children want to be farmers, too. And, we upgrade the coffee quality for our consumers.”
PUR Projet, an organisation that is a principal architect of insetting, an innovative type of carbon emissions offset that integrates socio-economic and environmental projects within a company’s supply chain, is helping Nespresso achieve its ambitious five-million tree goal. Unlike traditional carbon offsets, which are purchased to compensate for company-related emissions, insetting takes a holistic approach focused on proactively restoring ecosystems and building sustainability.
For Nespresso, PUR Projet designed a custom agroforestry initiative that combines agriculture and forestry to make smallholder coffee farms more resilient to the effects of climate change. To meet the unique needs of each region, PUR Projet selects native trees and partners with local agronomists working with Nespresso, and farmers through Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. The initiative works to create long-term, sustainable coffee quality by building direct relationships with those growing it. Beginning in 2014, the Nespresso agroforestry program began rolling out in Colombia, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. To date, Nespresso has achieved its carbon-neutrality goal.
Between 2014 and 2018 alone, 3.5 million trees were planted in the three countries. Over the next 30 years, those trees are expected to remove (sequester) an estimated 398,000 tC02e (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) from the atmosphere. Here’s how it works: Trees absorb carbon dioxide and potentially harmful greenhouse gases, such as sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, from the air through photosynthesis and return oxygen back into the atmosphere as a byproduct.
When in balance, greenhouse gases keep the planet’s climate habitable by trapping heat from the sun. However, today’s historically high levels of greenhouse gases—primarily caused, scientists say, by the burning of fossil fuels — have trapped heat close to the Earth. The resulting climatic change is what’s altering the very land, air, water, and weather patterns coffee growers have relied upon for generations.
By strategically placing trees at the centre of coffee production systems, Nespresso’s agroforestry program may not save the entire planet, but they are a giant step forward in the effort to save coffee by restoring and preserving coffee ecosystems.
In Guatemala, for example, where coffee farms sit on steep slopes prone to erosion, Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program farmers in Huehuetenango and Jalapa have learned how to preserve soil, water, and organic matter. The tall trees standing in coffee fields aren’t the only tangible signs that the program is taking root. With the introduction of the agroforestry program, soil quality is expected to steadily improve in the near future.
According to PUR Projet, trees slow runoff, stabilising the soil and increasing its water retention capacity. Trees also create organic matter, enriching the soil and preventing degradation. In addition, the taller trees help protect coffee plants from increasingly unpredictable weather patterns—such as extreme drought and heavy rain and wind—and help farmers diversify by providing fruit, spices, wood, and other byproducts to sell. These programs bring many benefits to coffee growers, as well as to the land that they rely on to bring us the high-quality coffee that we love to drink.
Why mist and mountains make great coffee.
Journey high into the Andes to discover the secrets behind Nespresso’s Master Origin Colombia coffee.
Clouds typically engulf Colombia’s mountainous Caldas province west of Bogotá. The resulting wet conditions and cold nights have proven the perfect recipe for producing Nespresso’s distinctive Master Origin Colombia washed Arabica coffee.
To trace the coffee to its source and learn how Nespresso is helping Caldas farmers build a sustainable, high-quality coffee culture, National Geographic sent award-winning photographer Rena Effendi to Aguadas, or “the land that gives water.” Located around 5,900 feet above sea level, the town is surrounded by the smallholder coffee farms where Master Origin Colombia coffee is born.
“On the drive to Aguadas, you feel like you are entering the clouds,” says Rena, who accompanied Nespresso agronomists on their regular rounds to remote, family-owned coffee farms. The agronomists, part of Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, launched in 2003, build long-term relationships with coffee growers to ensure a sustainable supply of high-quality coffee.
To consistently produce the Aguadas-sourced taste—a sweet and winey coffee with hints of candied apple and red berry notes—Nespresso’s AAA agronomists visited dozens of farms. After identifying those producing the preferred flavor, the agronomists dug deeper and found four common denominators among them:
1. High altitude locations (4,900 to 5,900 feet above sea level), which produce cold overnight temperatures
2. An extremely selective harvesting process in which ripe, red coffee cherries are picked
3. Dry fermenting the coffee for 21 hours compared to the regional standard of almost 16 to 18 hours
4. Exclusively drying the coffee in the sun.
Using these four factors as the foundation, the agronomists created a standard protocol for Aguadas farmers to follow to produce coffee in the quantity that Nespresso requires.
“It's the lengthy fermentation that causes the peculiar, winey flavor that Nespresso really likes,” says coffee expert Shirin Moayyad. “The Arabica coffee cherries are picked when they are ripe, are pulped to remove the cherry skin, and then are fermented to loosen the flesh. It’s because of the microclimate there that the fermentation takes longer.”
On her treks to the family farms, National Geographic photographer Rena got a first-hand look at the Aguadas process—a painstaking, artisanal method rooted in family tradition and a regional passion for coffee. As Rena discovered, harvesting red cherries here is an artful balancing act. Farm workers carry plastic buckets strapped to their waists with leather belts, and deftly pick cherries from trees growing on steep and often muddy slopes.
Once the buckets are filled, the cherries are poured into sacks and carried back up the hill to be de-pulped. They are tossed into rudimentary, metal machines to remove the skins. Then, the wet, mucilaginous parchment is fermented, which loosens the flesh, or mucilage, making it easier to wash off.
Before the Nespresso AAA protocol was put in place, the mucilage was discharged into local rivers. Now, working with Nespresso agronomists, Aguadas farmers are composting the fruit waste, which helps protect water quality, reduces the need for additional fertilizer and enriches the soil.
The final step in the process is a communal celebration of Aguadas’ distinctive coffee culture. The burlap sacks of beans are loaded onto colorful chiva (goat) buses that rumble into town to the cooperative where coffee is graded, sorted, sold, and, sometimes, roasted. For Rena, witnessing the arrival of the chivas—brightly painted old buses retrofitted with ladders to reach the rooftop cargo—reinforced the artisanal and thoroughly original aspect of Aguadas-sourced coffee.
“The chivas are so beautiful,” she says. “The women, children, uncles, and aunts pack into the bottom; on top there are these men with the bags of coffee. On Saturdays, in particular, the whole town wakes up when the chivas descend. It’s a big party. The chivas are a cultural symbol of the place. The farmers could use trucks to carry their coffee, but they choose to continue the tradition. It just adds another layer of wonderfulness of the Aguadas coffee experience.”