By Bonnie Hulkower
Recently, after decades of drinking the cheapest cup of Joe around, I have spent more time investigating where the coffee I drink comes from. The various certifications and eco-labels are often puzzling, so in July, I traveled to Guatemala, on a media trip sponsored by Rainforest Alliance, to observe current sustainable coffee-growing and eco-tourism practices. This is first in a series of four posts describing this visit, detailing alternative management strategies and clarifying the significance of different eco-labels.
Coffee grown in the tropics was traditionally grown in the shade of trees that provided habitats for animals. Coffee remains the economic bloodline of many developing nations, but new growing practices now threaten historically forested areas in these countries. Since the 1970s, the demand for coffee beans, the second-most traded commodity in the world, has led to an emphasis on sun cultivation. By clearing almost all of the forest canopy, coffee growers can grow more beans. However, the densely planted rows of coffee are more susceptible to pests and this methodology results in increased use of fertilizer and pesticides. Further, it reduces coffee farms with potential for diverse flora into monocultures.
Coffee farms sustaining biodiversity through shade-growing practices can receive certification by the Rainforest Alliance. In turn, consumers concerned about the ecological impact of the coffee they are drinking are cued that the beans have been grown sustainably. Conservation-minded tourists visiting coffee-growing countries can also be guided in their choices by selecting lodging which have received Rainforest Alliance verification.
In Guatemala, we visited two Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee farms and two Rainforest Alliance-verified hotels, all of which reflected local character and diverse cultures while adhering to sustainable growing and tourism practices.
The first farm, La Asotea, is a huge commercial farm, complete with a gift shop and museum and is located in Antigua, a city bustling with tourists. The second, ADESC , is an association of 68 small coffee producers and located in a remote highlands region. Despite their differences, both farms have earned the basic Rainforest Alliance frog seal of certification. Further, both are among the first to achieve Rainforest Alliance’s new pilot “climate friendly” module, based on their practices that reduce emissions and sequester carbon. More information on these practices will be highlighted in the next post in this series.
The hotels, like the farms, provided examples of local businesses that were incorporating sustainable practices. Hotel Villa Colonial, is a cheerful, brightly-colored, sprawling colonial mansion located in picturesque Antigua. By contrast, Hotel Las Cumbres is an eleven-room, small eco-lodge nestled on a hillside off a highway in the mountainous region of Zunil.
Further in this series, I will describe the way in which the farm and hotel owners view sustainability as integral to their business practices.