Cloud forest coffee at Finca El Jaguar

by on March 20, 2011

Because of the elevation of the farm and transpiration of the surrounding cloud forest, El Jaguar is covered with these misty clouds for at least a portion of nearly every day. Light levels and humidity, therefore, do not allow the coffee itself to be grown under multiple layers of shade, such as would be required by Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certification. Yields would decline and fungal diseases would increase. Rather, 80% of the property has been set aside in cloud forest reserve, and multiple bird research projects take place here since the owners are dedicated to conservation. El Jaguar is Rainforest Alliance certified.

Finca El Jaguar is located in northern Jinotega, Nicaragua, about 188 km north of the capital Managua. The property was acquired in 1991 by Georges Duriaux and Liliana Chavarría from Lili’s brother.  At about 100 ha (247 ac), it is both a private reserve registered with the  Nicaraguan ministry of natural resources, and a coffee farm. Eighty ha of the farm is preserved forest, and 20 ha are in coffee.

Coffee in shadows of foreground, a portion of the large forest reserve in the background.

The coffee consists of caturra and some catuai grown at 1300 to 1350 meters. El Jaguar has been certified by Rainforest Alliance since 2006, and Allegro Coffee (owned by Whole Foods) is the exclusive buyer. The farm employs 15 to 20 people year-round, and 30 to 40 additional people during coffee harvest. Of particular pride to Georges and Lili is the fact that several of the workers’ children are involved in bird research activities.

Over 270 bird species have been recorded at El Jaguar. More than 50 are Neotropical migrants (those that primarily breed in the U.S. and Canada and winter in the tropics), including an amazing 27 species of “our” warblers — Golden-winged Warbler, the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, and the Cerulean Warbler among them. Due to this rich bird life, El Jaguar was designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International in 2006.

In addition to preserving habitat and providing eco-lodging for birders, Georges and Lili have worked tirelessly on bird conservation projects. Since 2002, they have operated two of the eleven wintering bird banding stations in Nicaragua that are part of the important MoSI project (Monitoreo de Sobrevivencia Invernal – Monitoring Overwintering Survival).  One is in the forest, and one in the coffee production area. This project is an essential tool that enables researchers to gain insight into what bird species winter in an area, the habitats they use, and their overwinter survival. A sister project monitors resident birds from April to October.

This is the coffee, planted with bananas and other trees, next to the bird banding station in the coffee area.

Georges and Lili Duriaux–Chavarría record bird data.

Additionally, Georges and Lili are involved in special projects including the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group and similar project to benefit the Wood Thrush.

The colorful Rufous-winged Tanager (Tangara lavinia) was just one of the birds banded in the forest reserve during our visit.

Jean-Yves Duriaux, a recent graduate of EARTH University, has a wealth of knowledge about sustainable agronomy he is applying to the farm.

Until recently, El Jaguar’s coffee was also certified organic. Due to burdensome new (?) rules that we heard about in multiple places, their ability to adequately fertilize their coffee by organic means meant that they had to make the difficult decision to drop organic certification. This is being repeated at other farms in Nicaragua, and will be the topic of another post. Georges and Lili, and their son Jean-Yves who is managing the farm, are still just committed to conserving biodiversity. This year’s increased yield (over triple last year’s, due in large part to using conventional fertilizers) provided the income needed to continue preserving the current forest acreage and stay afloat.

During our visit, we talked a lot about Rainforest Alliance certification.  The Duriaux–Chavarría’s were enthusiastic supporters, and it gave us much-needed perspective on the impact of RA certification on the ground. Although El Jaguar has had long-term contracts with Allegro for years, they explained that RA certification strengthens their position and helps them negotiate a better price. The certification process improves quality and sustainability, and RA provides guidance and assistance. In fact, RA has held workshops at El Jaguar for neighboring farmers, and the next step is working with them to get them certified. This dovetails with training Georges and Lili have already provided to neighbors on biological resources and sustainable production, as well as a grant they received to help provide native trees to reforest nearby properties and encourage other farmers to pursue certification.

Coffee was already flowering last week at El Jaguar.

There are challenges ahead for El Jaguar and other coffee producers. Of note was the fact that the weather, influenced by La Niña conditions, caused early flowering and fruiting. Harvest was early this season, and complete by the time we arrived. Meanwhile, the coffee was again beginning to flower while we were there, which means the next harvest will be around two months earlier than “usual.” Café loco.

As we did two years ago, we also stayed at Finca Esperanza Verde. At a few hundred meters lower in elevation, the coffee all over that area was greatly defoliated by fungal disease, also exacerbated by wet weather. They are usually treated with copper-based fungicides. Some of these have typically been permitted under organic certification, but, again, we heard that now farmers were told they were not allowed to use them. If that’s really the case (I’m investigating), it’s hard to see how producers will be able to afford to keep organic certification.

I’ll be incorporating more of what we learned in future posts. Meanwhile, if you are interested in details on visiting El Jaguar, please contact me directly.

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Revised on March 23, 2014

Posted in Birds and other biodiversity,Coffee regions

Selina @ Total Curve Reviews March 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Thank you for your efforts to keep/make the world a safer place for future generations. I wish all coffee agriculture was so harmonious with the environment around it. I am creating a green blog and will be linking to your site if that is ok?

Selina

Cathy Carroll March 21, 2011 at 5:40 am

Great photos and information. Thanks for your efforts to go to the source to provide us with accurate information.

Cathy Carroll March 23, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Incidentally, I do like their coffee!

Monty June 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm

While birding in some months and the surrounding scenery is very good, it is questionable why El Jaguar has given up organic farming and does not feel it is worth being Fair Trade certified (Selva Negra does both and is proud of it). In addition, Selva Negra provides housing, food, healthcare, and a school for their permanent workers and families. I have some doubt as to what the owners of El Jaguar do for their workers if they don’t feel organic farming is worthwhile. Yes, it costs more but some of us believe in it. In addition, Selva Negra grows most of its own crops and raises chickens, cows, etc. The lodge itself may be too built up for some but their operation is certainly impressive.

JACraves June 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Monty — El Jaguar is not part of a cooperative, and (until the new U.S.-only program is fully implemented) cannot be Fair Trade certified, which is open to cooperative members only. I never said they don’t think Fair Trade is worthwhile.

Selva Negra HAS reduced their organic production for the same reasons as El Jaguar — I spoke with the owner when I was there. It is also a much, much larger operation than El Jaguar — twenty times the number of employees and much more land area. El Jaguar treats and pays their employees, which live nearby, very well. Not every smallholder-owned farm has the land, capital, or even need to build worker housing or raise all their own food (they buy it from their neighbors!). Please be more sensible or informed when criticizing others.

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