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Carbon coffee - mitigating climate change in Mexico

Through reforestation and agroforestry activities, small coffee farmers will generate carbon credits (© Rainforest Alliance)
Through reforestation and agroforestry activities, small coffee farmers will generate carbon credits
© Rainforest Alliance

An innovative reforestation and agroforestry pilot project in Oaxaca, Mexico that will generate carbon credits to help over 400 smallholder coffee farmers alleviate climate change, conserve their forest landscapes and enhance their livelihoods, is being implemented by Pronatura Sur and other local partners, with support from the Rainforest Alliance.

Farms that receive Rainforest Alliance certification already undergo rigorous annual audits, verifying their compliance with stringent social, environmental and economic standards, set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). But to generate carbon credits, they must do much more. Taking advantage of the management systems already established on certified coffee farms, Rainforest Alliance developed a guide in 2009, outlining how to develop agroforestry projects to sequester carbon and earn carbon credits.

Forging ahead

In order to generate carbon credits, participating Mexican farmers are planting fruit and timber trees to create live fences, reforest degraded pastureland and increase the percentage of their production area that is devoted to shade-grown coffee. Besides supporting reforestation activities, Pronatura Sur, Unidad Ecológica para el Sector Café Oaxaqueño (UESCO) and Agroindustrias Unidas de México are also teaching farmers how to monitor the amount of carbon sequestered and manage the verification and sale of carbon credits generated by the project.

Farmers are taught how to monitor the amount of carbon sequestered (© Pronatura Sur)
Farmers are taught how to monitor the amount of carbon sequestered
© Pronatura Sur

"The goal is to enhance the livelihoods of over 400 farmers engaged in sustainable farming practices and mitigate climate change, via the facilitation of a reforestation project that will generate carbon credits," says Israel Amezcua Torrijos, Pronatura Sur's Climate Change Program Coordinator. Over the project's 25-year lifespan, the trees should sequester more than 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. "The idea is that the trees will help farmers diversify their income and improve the environment," Torrijos adds. "The project will also help the community build its technical and organizational expertise."

As of August 2011, Pronatura Sur is developing the project design document that will be used for assessing the project against the necessary international standards. "We want to make sure that the farmers have a product that is valuable and will provide them with an income. Validation to independent carbon standards helps ensure credits are saleable and of interest to the marketplace," explains Julianne Baroody, Rainforest Alliance climate program coordinator. In future, Rainforest Alliance hopes that on-site verification audits will be carried out in conjunction with SAN audits to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Projected benefits

Farmers are increasing production of shade-grown coffee (© Rainforest Alliance)
Farmers are increasing production of shade-grown coffee
© Rainforest Alliance

"A project like this proves that it's possible to mitigate climate change in a way that benefits farmers, rural communities, regional ecosystems and the global climate simultaneously," explains Jeff Hayward, director of the Rainforest Alliance's climate programme. "Using carbon finance to sequester carbon or avoid greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time enhancing forests offers a new means to reward sustainable management practices," he adds.

As an increasing number of companies seek to offset their emissions, the carbon credit market (currently valued at US$120 billion) has the potential to yield significant economic benefits for farmers who can generate carbon credits. In the near future, the project hopes to begin selling credits to ensure its financial sustainability. Rainforest Alliance also expects that farmers will be able to earn increased revenue from their coffee by marketing it as a climate change mitigating product.

In Oaxaca, many coffee farmers are turning to cattle rearing or cultivation of staple food crops. With increased income, Torrijos hopes that the carbon project will promote increased coffee farming in the area. "Trees will also diversify production activities, enabling them to adapt to climate change," he adds. In addition to helping mitigate climate change by drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reforestation will conserve biodiversity, increase wildlife habitats, maintain soil fertility, protect water sources and conserve Oaxaca's forest. It's anticipated that farmers will also benefit from a greater supply of firewood and construction material, as well as fruit and other forest products.

Overcoming technical challenges

"Technical issues have been the greatest challenge," Torrijos explains. "The farmers have a lot of experience with certification, but they have all required training in order to implement activities specifically related to this carbon project, such as how to develop and manage carbon sequestration monitoring systems." Pronatura Sur has also had to provide technical support to help farmers improve coffee production under shade management, and plant local tree species which offer greater benefits such as reduced susceptibility to pests and diseases.

Technical issues have been the greatest challenge (© Pronatura Sur)
Technical issues have been the greatest challenge
© Pronatura Sur

As voluntary markets continue to grow and international efforts to address climate change develop, carbon credit projects should benefit. "The results of this project will be a model for other agroforestry activities," Hayward enthuses. "The combination of certified coffee and carbon can be replicated in other countries as well as by producers of other crops. Our hope is to see, for example, cocoa farmers in Ghana adapting their own projects."

But the Rainforest Alliance is also aware that in order to make these projects work, small farmers need a significant amount of guidance and training. "This amount of work and investment isn't going to be appropriate in every situation," Hayward concludes. "While the benefits can be great, we need to figure out how to more broadly include smallholder farmers in REDD or other similar Payment for Environmental Services (PES) schemes that reward landowners for the climate benefits provided by their sustainable managed lands."

Date published: September 2011


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100,000Mt over 25 years sequestered by 400 farms: Per farm p... (posted by: Michiel Kuit)


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