Our Perspectives

A cup of coffee, spiced with biodiversity


farmers plant seedlingsFarmers in Colombia plant seedlings of native plants for a biological conservation corridor in an area of coffee farms. Photo: UNDP in Colombia

Today is the International Day of Biological Diversity, which has for me deep personal, professional and cultural significance. Working in Latin America and Caribbean region, I have witnessed firsthand the profound dependence that we all have on the natural world – especially people who work closely with the land and sea. In UNDP, we are committed to harnessing this reliance in ways that improve biodiversity and people’s lives.

Thinking about the significance of this day and the importance of this work, I am reminded of Dora Garcia, a Colombian coffee farmer who participated in an innovative UNDP-supported, GEF-financed project. How surprised she was when she began receiving additional income based on the carbon sequestered by native trees she planted almost five years earlier! Mrs. Garcia is one of the coffee farmers who embraced this opportunity and received social, economic and environmental benefits when she decided to produce a cup of coffee spiced with biodiversity-friendly policies, sustainable practices, and ecosystem services.

In Colombia, for over 50 years coffee has been the main engine of economic growth and development in the biodiversity-rich landscapes of the Andean region. Colombia’s excellent growing conditions, paired with an aggressive marketing campaign by the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) that started in the 1950s, has positioned the country as one of the main producers of high-quality coffee. Unfortunately, in recent decades, farmers have either adopted unsustainable coffee growing practices or moved to less sustainable land uses amid falling coffee prices. This trend is affecting the resilience of ecosystems that are essential for the long-term production of coffee, putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of about 400,000 families.  

The good news is that UNDP Colombia, in association with FNC, contributed to the transformation of the coffee landscape in several municipalities by promoting a novel and integrated approach that improved the livelihoods of farmers. Farmers like Mrs. Garcia obtained economic and social benefits not only through the certification and verification of coffee and agroforestry products, but also through payments generated from watershed services and the sequestration of carbon.

Farmers signed conservation contracts and agreed to plant trees to establish conservation corridors, enrich existing forests, and develop or renew agroforestry systems. The trees sequestered about 9,500 tons of CO2-eq that were sold in domestic markets. The economic benefits delivered to each farmer were proportional to the number of trees planted, incentivizing farmers.  Farmers who kept a certain percentage of their land covered by trees received tax breaks

These measures also increased the resilience of farms to climate variability and natural disasters. In fact, these farmers’ crops were able to withstand the impacts of both El Niño and La Niña. Across all of the project’s interventions in the 13 targeted municipalities, the average net income of project beneficiaries increased by 8.5%. The project approach—which is now being replicated by the FNC in an additional 52 coffee-growing municipalities nationwide—represents a new, sustainable way of growing coffee while building resilient livelihoods in Colombia.

So on this International Day of Biological Diversity, as you enjoy your morning cup of coffee, take a moment to reflect on the healthy forests, clean water, fertile soils and hard-working farmers that brought it to your table.

Climate change and disaster risk reduction Environment Ecosystems and biodiversity Green commodities Drylands and desertification Sustainable development Latin America & the Caribbean Colombia partnerships

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