The Cerrado Mineiro in southeast Brazil is known for its high-quality coffee but, without intervention, it might not stay that way.
The 4,500 coffee producers in the region—which stretches across 235,000 hectares—depend on irrigation to water their crops. Unfortunately, severe droughts, caused by climate change, mean that the water they depend on is running out.
In 2020 alone, about US$30 million was lost in revenue after the coffee harvest was reduced by 40%.
To address this crisis, coffee growers, international roasters, nonprofit organizations and researchers have come together to create the Cerrado Water Consortium.
The group formed in 2015 with financial help from some big names: Lavazza, Expocaccer and Nespresso.
Other important players soon came aboard, too: Nescafé, Cooxupé, VolCafé and COFCO among them.
CEPF assisted with a grant of US$400,000—it’s largest-ever for a project in the Cerrado Biodiversity Hotspot—awarded to the local organization Cerrado Mineiro Development Foundation (FUNDACCER), established by the Federation of Coffee Growers.
The consortium is currently piloting a program in Feio watershed basin to assist farmers in implementing sustainable agriculture methods—placing native vegetation amidst coffee plants and using organic fertilizer, for example.
This is accompanied by a personalized property plan detailing how to implement best management practices for “climate smart” agriculture for each property.
The benefits of better water usage go beyond just coffee production. Nearby cities depend on Cerrado Mineiro’s water supply, too. Patrocínio, home to 90,000 residents, has been under a water emergency seven times over the past 10 years.
“If every farmer does his part in protecting the water on his property, he also will protect the supply of the city,” said Michael Becker, who leads CEPF’s regional implementation team for the Cerrado Hotspot.
There are, of course, some farmers who aren’t currently interested in becoming involved with the initiative, but Becker is optimistic that more will join.
“Sustainability improves a rural property’s success because it provides a framework for how best to manage the land,” he said. “Farmers will see the successes of their neighbors who are utilizing these best practices.”
In addition to working with individual farmers, the consortium looks at the bigger picture, measuring water volume and water quality at strategic points along the watershed to determine the effectiveness of the consortium’s efforts.
Local governments are realizing the benefits of such work.
“Recently, two municipalities eagerly adopted the program to protect their water sources,” Becker said.
The towns will benefit from the consortium’s expertise, and the consortium will, in turn, receive non-monetary support, such as the use of farm equipment.
“We want to continue expanding these techniques over an even larger territory,” Becker added.
To expand beyond the pilot program, more funding will be needed. To that end, the consortium recently got a major boost when one of the biggest commodity traders in China, Coffee Corp, joined the consortium. And, just last month, German company NKG Stockler signed on.
“I’d like to see players on the international market actually sustain [the consortium] and see it as an opportunity to keep their markets,” he said. “When I talk to colleagues in other countries about this issue, I ask them, ‘What would happen if there was no coffee anymore?’”
Hopefully, with help from the Cerrado Water Consortium, we’ll never have to find out.