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Coffee & Carbon Workshop @ Yale University

The Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI), proponent of the Yoro Biological Corridor (YBC), was invited to take part in a Yale University “Coffee & Carbon” workshop last month.

The public event took place at the Yale University campus on September 7-8, and brought together coffee industry leaders and the most advanced strategies to address coffee’s unchecked and growing carbon footprint.

The timing of the workshop was significant in light of the new and controversial EU Deforestation laws, which will require all EU coffee imports to prove they are not responsible for any deforestation.

The main purpose of the Yale workshop was to exchange ideas, discuss what industry actors are doing, and what conditions would enable natural carbon capture to be a working reality.

Summary of the the Presentations:

Among the presentations, there were two different carbon trading programs based on coffee system to compare:

  1. Mesoamerican Development Institute’s (MDI) Yoro Model being prepared for scale-up in the Yoro Biological Corridor; In which coffee producers actively restore forest on their lands and the coffee is processed with renewable energy instead of the burning of firewood.
  2. Solidaridad’s model in partnership with Conservation International and Rainforest Alliance; In which producers do not change their methods of behaviour, and instead coffee cultivation practiced on previously degraded land (that was deforested up to 20 years ago) is seen as eligible for carbon trading, by counting the carbon sequestered in the coffee plants themselves and surrounding shade trees.

From Our Perspective

Over the course of more than two decades of continuous research, what YBC researchers have learned is that coffee cultivation replaces high elevation tropical forest. We also know that these high elevation forests adjacent to national parks and cloud forest are biodiversity hot-spots providing forest habitat for preservation of wildlife and watersheds. As this forest habitat is lost to current business-as usual-coffee cultivation, the local communities and cities and towns downstream are impacted by erosion and loss of water resources.

Richard Trubey, Mesoamerican Development Institute. All Photos Credit: Carbon & Coffee Workshop, YSE 2023.

With the Yoro Model, forest habitat is restored and maintained on coffee farms, sequestering carbon to mitigate climate change, maintaining healthy watersheds, and providing jobs for local youth in operating processing factories powered by renewable energy, and in monitoring and mapping farms to validate carbon accounting.

Furthermore, it is not really possible for any productive, cultivated coffee plant to be a carbon sink (a.k.a. sequester more than it emits). This is because when you account for the many parts that compose it’s footprint (starting with the clearing of forest to grow coffee, the tilling of soil, the loss of biodiversity and moisture, inputs to grow coffee, and the energy it take to process the coffee once picked)—All of these added up give off more carbon emissions than a coffee plant sequesters. The only coffee plants that could qualify as being able to sequester more carbon than they emit, would be wild coffee growing in Ethiopia that is growing there naturally.

Follow Up

A white paper of conclusions following this event and at least one comment article published in a peer-reviewed paper is the planned follow up. We look forward to sharing those with you!

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New Yoro Biological Corridor Research Publication

A new scientific study that helps in validating the Yoro Model is out now!

Published in August of this year in the Spanish academic journal “Sociedad de Ornitología Neotropical”, this study validates earlier findings that IOC™ farms provide much-needed habitat for the warblers not found in other coffee farming scenarios (results that were originally demonstrated in Costa Rica and confirmed by Murillo’s study in Honduras).

The study is titled “Afforestation efforts for golden-winged warblers and other forest-associated species in Honduras” and was a joint effort by authors: David Murillo, Darío Alvarado, Fabiola Rodríguez-Vásquez, Caz Taylor, and David I. King.

For more Yoro Biological Corridor research, see our Resources page.

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Important 2023 Coffee Barometer Report Released

An important global coffee report that monitors sustainability claims was released yesterday, and paints the picture that the industry has reached a crisis point in meeting its own climate targets.

“… the coffee sector finds itself immersed in a state of crisis.” … “Amidst the grand claims of sustainability and rosy promises of a prosperous future in coffee agriculture, the harsh reality faced by coffee producers is marked by price volatility and rising production costs … Coupled with rampant inflation and the profound consequences of a rapidly changing climate in the most vulnerable origins.” (2023 Coffee Barometer)

The Coffee Barometer, published at and supported by Conservation International, Solidaridad, Ethos Agriculture and Belgiun and German development agencies, reports on the coffee industry’s attitude and progress towards climate readiness and sustainable supply chains; and is widely recognized as the most accurate “mainstream” depiction of where the coffee industry sits with regards to sustainability.

The last Coffee Barometer report, published in 2020, summed up the “all talk but no action” existing claims and efforts of the biggest coffee corporations, (like Olam, Nestle and Starbucks) as “disappointing”.

This new 2023 report identifies that coffee has now clearly reached a crisis point.

What it Summarizes

  • Coffee growing habitat is at severe risk … Projecting a loss of 45.2% of global Arabica production by 2050 (due to loss of suitable habitat). Poses an even greater threat to existing high elevation forests.
  • The exploitive and extractive nature of coffee will keep millions of growers below the poverty line.
  • The new EU Deforestation Law (10 years in the making) is the first big government regulation requiring commodities like coffee and cocao to prove their supply chains did not contribute to deforestation in order to be approved entry. However, so far the largest coffee companies are challenging the law rather than incorporating the needed changes to be compliant, claiming that the burden will ultimately hurt the farmers.
  • Key finding about coffee’s carbon footprint state an increasing loss of more than 130,000 hectares of forest each year, equaling approximately 45 million metric tonnes of carbon emissions.
  • The coffee industry is opaque and doesn’t disclose the basic information needed for global stakeholders to properly assess supply chains.
  • Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) like Global Coffee Platform (GCP) and Sustainable Coffee Challenge (SCC), that include associations and recognized NGOs, are allowing companies to benefit from media attention that make it seem like they are acting on climate when they aren’t having any impact (essentially green-washing). “[Multi-stakeholder Initiatives] allows them to portray themselves as “taking action” while conveniently sidestepping the more complex and contentious issues.” (2023 Coffee Barometer)

Conclusion & Next Steps

The report paints a scary picture for high elevation tropical forests, coffee farmers, and people all over the world affected by climate change. So, everyone.

But there is hope in action …

From the report: “Clearly, agroforestry should not be seen as a substitute for natural forests, but rather as a means to restore degraded landscapes. Agroforestry has the potential to contribute to global restoration efforts and store vast amounts of carbon, potentially amounting to millions of metric tons.”

The foundation of YBC’s Yoro Model starts with the local community (i.e. farmers) and introduces a new way of growing, processing and trading (i.e. transparent transactions throughout the supply chain). Its multi-disciplinary approach address all of the issues outlined in the report and is here for coffee companies to embrace.

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IOC Study Results Presented at NA Bird Conference

A key topic of this year’s “leading North American ornithology conference” put a focus on “afforestation efforts to protect the Golden-winged Warbler”—And, more specifically, how Integrated Open Canopy™ (IOC) coffee farming being tested and implemented in the Yoro Biological Corridor (YBC) may prove useful.

(“Ornithology” refers the study of birds; and “Afforestation” refers to the act of converting land into forest, with the goal being to maintain the health and longevity of the forest for its environmental services)

David Murillo, PhD student of University of Massachusetts and long-time researcher with Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI), was all set to present the results of his study showing promise for helping save critical Golden-winged Warbler habitat (published just this month by the Spanish academic journal “Sociedad de Ornitología Neotropical”); However, due to inclement weather in Honduras, Dr. David King of the US Forest Service (and associated YBC researcher) presented on Murillo’s behalf.

Murillo’s talk shared the title of his recent publication: “Afforestation efforts for golden-winged warblers and other forest-associated species in Honduras”.

The study is significant because it validates other existing findings that IOC farms provide much-needed habitat for the warblers not found in other coffee farming scenarios. (Results that were originally demonstrated in Costa Rica and now confirmed by Murillo’s study in Honduras).

“The presentation was extremely well received, with very positive feedback from the audience on these initiatives during a panel discussion following the session,” said Dr. King.

More Details

This year’s conference, (an annual joint conference between the American Ornithological Society and the Society of Canadian Ornithologists), was called “Birds as Bridges” and held in London, Ontario from August 8-12th. The conference aims to achieve a broad discussion of research that “spans the breadth of modern ornithology through plenaries, symposia, workshops, roundtable discussions, contributed papers, and posters”.

David Murillo’s “Afforestation efforts for golden-winged warblers and other forest-associated species in Honduras” was presented by Dr. King on Friday, August 11 @ 10:30 a.m. EST.

A copy of Murillo’s recently published study results showing that IOC farms support forest species not present in shade coffee or other habitats can be downloaded from our resources page here.

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Meeting of the 7 Commonwealth Municipalities

A total of 7 municipalities came together for a meeting in Meambar, Honduras that began with an hour-long presentation about the Yoro Biological Corridor (YBC) today.

The meeting marks the first joint meeting of all members of a group 7 Commonwealth Municipalities (known as MAMUDEC) and was decorated in celebration of the occasion.

The YBC presentation was given by Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI) researchers, Ana Quiñonez and Raul Raudales, as part of MDI’s efforts to capture and show the unified support of the region’s local mayors.

By the end of the meeting, which was well-attended, the Commonwealth agreed they were all on board with the YBC initiative, indicating that the meeting was a success 🙌

A Fun Film Crew Addition

Alongside the expected meeting attendees (i.e. municipal leaders, local utility managers, community members, and other stakeholders that endorse the YBC) was a film crew capturing it all.

The US-based crew was there to document the process of establishing a legally protected biological corridor, and this meeting was a component of a longer two-week shoot throughout the region.

Film crew evidence 😉
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US Forest Service Compliance Audit: PASS

The US Forest Service carries out rigorous annual audits of its partners and Yoro Biological Corridor (YBC) Co-developer, Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI) passed, once again, this year with flying colours. 🎉

This is good news for the forest corridor, and helps bring more transparency and traceability to the YBC project and its initiative to scientifically measure and account for forest carbon offsets.

The audit started on Monday, August 7th and lasted until the 16th.

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Drone Pilot Training with FUNACH

Flying drones for forest-monitoring is no small undertaking, and relies on having well-trained pilots on-the-ground. Pilots with the Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI), who are working on drone maps of the Yoro Biological Corridor (pictured here) are attending a 4-day long workshop/training session in the use, management, and safety of flying drones.

Topics covered in the training included things like civil aeronautical rules, flight tricks for avoiding potential hazards (e.g. obstacles, or interference in the connection with the remote control) and cloud identification for safe flights.

The training was sponsored by FUNACH (Fundación en Acción Comunitaria de Honduras), a project organization that belongs to the group of co-managers of the Yoro Biological Corridor. FUNACH’s development objective is “To ensure food security and increase families’ income through the introduction of sustainable and ecologically sound agricultural production methods.”

And the workshop was taught by FUNACH General Manager, Ángel Irías and Certified Drone Pilot, Miguel Muños.

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Meeting with Indigenous Tribe Tolupan

Meetings with local community members continue, the most recent being with the indigenous tribe “Tolupan” (above). The Yoro Biological Corridor (YBC) team met with the Directing Council of the Tolupan Tribe, in the town of El Suntular, to discuss their issues and potential opportunities with the corridor.

The Tolupan population originates from pre-Hispanic times, during which they were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers. Today tribes vary in their lifestyles; Some of which include the more traditional hunting with a bow, and even abstaining from contact with strangers, but also some that now include farming. More about the Tolupan here.

The meeting, which was very positive, is important to the YBC project because these Tolupan people live within the geographical borders of the Corridor, and the YBC team is grateful for the opportunity to learn about their needs.

Along for the meeting was Skarleth (below), who is in university studying the costs of organic farming vs. conventional. Skarleth was also hired by the YBC team to work on the 600 coffee farm survey aimed at gauging farmers’ interest in adopting the Yoro Model’s Integrated Open Canopy™ (IOC) coffee farming.

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Soil Carbon Training Underway

Yoro Biological Corridor coffee farmers and program participants have been engaging in scientific training for how to accurately analyze carbon in soil this past week.

The training is a mix of field and classroom work. Team members are learning how to capture a soil sample, as well as how to measure the carbon and nutrient levels in a sample.

And it’s all taking place at the new research field station, which is now up a running with internet and multimedia presentations 🙌

The soil carbon data team.
Analyzing the data back at the field station.
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Addressing Water Issues with ‘Comunidad de Paya’

Paying a visit to this vibrant community in the Yoro region, Honduras last week. The community, called ‘Comunidad de Paya’ resides within the borders of the protected Pico Pijol National Park.

The National Park Service requested that the Yoro Biological Corridor team meet with Comunidad de Paya and discuss issues around water scarcity, trash disposal; as well as present the benefits and solutions offered by the Yoro Biological Corridor program.

110 people were in attendance, motivated by the degrading conditions of the natural water resources they rely on for survival.

The Cuyamapa River that runs through this region is drying up due to the effects of deforestation from coffee production and other agricultural encroachment on intact forest areas.
A view of the deforestation taking place in the surrounding region where the Comunidad de Paya calls home.
Meeting and presentation with ‘Comunidad de Paya’ to address water scarcity issues.