Gabriel Chait, MEM

2013 TRI Fellow in Colombia

The Development of Sustainable and Specialty Coffee in Colombia

Traditionally cultivated coffee under shade in diversified plots has the ability to maintain forest biodiversity, ecosystem services and mitigate farmers’ financial risk and economic dependence. This is especially true in Colombia where nearly all coffee production comes from the biodiversity rich tropical Andean range, and production is overwhelmingly dominated by small farmers. Volatility in global commodity markets, combined with governmental policies, and increasing pest outbreaks have caused a shift away from traditional methods towards intensified coffee production in Colombia. These systems are promoted as a higher yield activity that is less vulnerable to coffee pests, though they require the clearing of forest cover and crop diversity significantly altering farm ecology. At the same time, the emergence of differentiated specialty markets for non-conventional, sustainable coffee production is providing new opportunities for small farmers to maintain traditionally grown coffee plots with a diversified production.

This study was aimed at assessing how financial incentives and ecological considerations, especially regarding coffee rust (Hemileia vastatrix) response, result in farmer management decisions over coffee landscapes. Interviews were conducted with producers, cooperative managers, and agronomists in three of Colombia’s most productive coffee regions to assess and compare management strategies.