As we did last year, Coffee & Conservation attended the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Coffee Breakfast at the SCAA annual show. The breakfast took place this morning. The winners of the sixth annual “Cupping for Quality” event were announced. These awards recognize Rainforest Alliance (RA) certified coffee farmers dedicated to growing top quality beans, while protecting the environment and the rights of workers.
This year, 80 RA certified farms in 11 countries (Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama) participated. Coffee from 94% of the participating farms received scores of 80 or above, although none scored over 89. The average score for the top 10 farms was 85.08; last year it was 86.39.
Here are the top 10 farms. I’ve provided links and information where available. After the country-based summary, I’ve concluded with some comments.
- Hacienda La Esmeralda — Panama (88.99). No surprise here, the Peterson’s farm nearly always grabs the top slot in any contest. Last year it also came in first in this competition, when it scored 89.93.
- Santa Elisa Pachup — Guatemala (85.74). In 2007, this farm came in 5th place in the Guatemala Cup of Excellence. From the photo on that site, it looks like the shade is rather sparse — shade monoculture or polyculture. However, 113 ha of the 493 ha total is forest, natural or in the process of being reforested.
- La Pampa — Guatemala (84.96). This farm didn’t make the top ten last year, with a score of 84.63.
- Finca Santa Anita — Costa Rica (84.92).
- Grupo Asociativo San Isidro — Colombia (84.58). A 93-member Fair Trade co-op from Huila. In 2004, researchers found the uncommon endemic Dusky-headed Brush-finch (Atlapetes fuscoolivaceus) in forested land owned by the cooperative.
- Sumatra Mandheling Rainforest — Indonesia (84.56).
- Fazenda Capoeirinha – Ipanema Coffees — Brazil (84.44). Fazenda Capoeirinha is one of three farms operated under the Ipanema name. This coffee is/was a component in Intelligentsia’s popular Black Cat espresso blend, and Ipanema Coffees are also used by Starbucks. From what I’ve been able to determine, this is not shade coffee but grown in sun like much of Brazil’s coffee. Brazilian law requires habitat preservation, and the Ipanema web site at one point discussed a reforestation goal of 350 ha by 2014 which will create 68 “micro-reserves.” Although corridors are also mentioned, habitat fragments are not as functional as large parcels of intact forest. Perhaps more promising are the 790 ha of wetlands set aside for biodiversity conservation.
- Fazenda Lambari — Brazil (84.31). Another large sun coffee farm, and also undertaking a reforestation project as part of their Rainforest Alliance certification.
- Gemadro Coffee Plantation — Ethiopia (84.18). In 2006, I wrote all about this very large farm, owned by a company belonging to a wealthy Saudi sheik. At the time they weren’t Rainforest Alliance certified and it doesn’t look the web site has been updated, so I don’t know what environmental changes have taken place.
- Monte Sion (I think this is the correct name, not Siona) — El Salvador (84.17). A small farm (around 35 ha) in the Apaneca mountains.
Here are how each of the participating countries scored:
- Guatemala (with six farms participating) 83.83; top 3 – Santa Elisa Pachup (85.74), La Pampa (84.96), San Diego Buena Vista (83.75)
- El Salvador (with six farms participating) 83.30; top 3 – Monte Sion (84.17), Las Mercedes (84.13), San Jose (83.39)
- Costa Rica (with 10 farms participating) 82.58; top 3 – Finca Santa Anita (84.92), Rincón Socola (83.56), Espíritu Santo Estate Coffee (83.18)
- Brazil (with 10 farms participating) 82.42; top 3 – Capoeirinha – Ipanema Coffees (84.44), Fazenda Lambari (84.31), Pinheiros – Sete Cachoeiras State Coffee (83.33)
- Colombia (with 24 farms participating) 82.30; top 3 -Grupo Asociativo San Isidro (84.58), Grupo Aguadas (83.94), Grupo Anserma (83.90)
- Nicaragua (with six farms participating) 82.13; top 3 -Selva Negra (83.49), Los Placeres (82.97), Finca Orgánica y Reserva El Jaguar (82.13)
- Honduras (with 7 farms participating) 80.57; top 3 -El Derrumbo (81.65), La Guama (80.96), El Cascajal (80.83)
- Mexico (with eight farms participating) 80.25; top 3 – Finca Arroyo Negro (82.87 — they showed a photo of a jaguar taken in the coffee production area at the breakfast — very impressive!), Finca Kassandra (82.64), Oaxacafé (82.61)
- Panama, Indonesia & Ethiopia each had only one farm participating.
There are some nice farms here, but what is striking is the variety of sizes and levels of shade management represented in these RA certified farms. While RA certification is not wholly concerned with shade or biodiversity, the variation in these farms highlight the differences in RA ecological criteria and that of Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certification. I’ve spoken to a lot of consumers, and their overall impression is that RA certification is an ecological one and they generally believe that it indicates that the coffee is shade grown. This is not always the case (or even the intent). I will echo a sentiment I’ve heard several times from coffee professionals: I wish RA could come out with some sort of tiered or categorical certification scheme that would clarify things for consumers.
That being said, what I love about RA’s Cupping for Quality awards is that they provide extra incentive for producers to move toward sustainable practices. This includes those that preserve biodiversity, even if they are not as rigorous as Smithsonian’s Bird-Friendly requirements. This annual recognition and emphasis on quality (especially with RA’s partnership with the Coffee Quality Institute), is likely to stimulate more price premiums than can be generated by the certification itself. Ultimately, increased profit can be the best motivator for producers to pursue sustainability and certification.