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Little Costa Rica’s Huge Plans to Become Coffee-Carbon-Neutral

cafe costa rica coffee

Coffee at San Marcos de Tarrazu, Costa Rica. Wikimedia Commons photo.

There has been a lot of big news lately on the topic of coffee sustainability in the face of climate change, largely surrounding last month’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Paris.

From that meeting, Conservation International announced a call to action to players in both the private and public sectors to make coffee the “first sustainable agricultural product in the world,” working with relatively loose working definitions related to economic and environmental sustainability.

Meanwhile, coffee leaders in Costa Rica have been organizing a long-term effort to make the country’s coffee producing sector carbon neutral by 2021 — a clearly ambitious goal, and one that is without much precedent in the agricultural world at large, let alone the coffee world.

How does Costa Rica plan to do this? To answer this question, let’s talk briefly about Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions. While long-term climate action is often under the purview of the world’s largest industrialized countries — those that produce the most greenhouse emissions — NAMAs are developing-country-specific action plans submitted to the UNFCC that may target specific industries or sectors.

Costa Rica’s is the first coffee-specific NAMA to be monitored by the UNFCC. Supported by the federal government and the Costa Rica Coffee Institute (ICAFE), Café Costa Rica today announced that the NAMA is the first agricultural NAMA in the world to move into the implementation stage (more than 50 agricultural NAMAs have been registered with UNFCC, yet they’re awaiting funding and institutional support prior to action).

Costa Rica’s carbon-neutrality action plan will require an estimated $30 million USD, and the institutional framework that has already taken shape involves numerous private and public parties domestically and internationally. The plan takes aim at some 93,000 hectares of coffee-producing land throughout all of the country’s main growing regions: Brunca, Turrialba, Tarrazú, Orosi, Tres Rios, Central Valley, West Valley, and Guanacaste.

Specific greenhouse gas mitigation actions include, but are not limited to: incentivizing growers to reduce or eliminate the use of fertilizers that create nitrous oxide emissions; recycling wastewater from pulping while converting mucilage into reusable biomass; using that recycled biomass to power drying operations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions; and further reducing carbon dioxide emissions by promoting agroforestry methods that add shade trees to coffee farms, absorbing CO2 and improving soil health.

“With growing exports towards the United States, Europe, Japan and Korea, Costa Rican coffee producers share the determination to efficiently respond to international demand by providing sustainable coffee beans all the while managing climate variables,” Café de Costa Rica Executive Director Ronald Peters said in an announcement of the implementation stage today. “Our coffee production is an integral part of the history and identity of Costa Rica, and we are excited for our country to be the pioneer in taking measurable steps towards more sustainability.”

Naturally, climate action is primarily an environmental issue, although Costa Rica’s sustainability efforts — as outlined in the NAMA — relate to the health of the sector at large, particularly to the livelihoods of individual coffee farmers, who could potentially benefit from assistance toward increased biodiversity, improved agroforestry management, reduced fertilizer costs and improved soil management.

Café Costa Rica suggests its action plan will result in meaningful contributions to the “economic and social livelihoods” of coffee producers. Said Peters, “The commitments we have made will maintain employment for up to 150,000 jobs during the harvest period, having a positive impact on the standard of living of more than 400,000 people.”

From one of the world’s smaller countries, a huge plan indeed. See an ICAFE overview of the plan here.

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