More coffee = more biodiversity

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Production Ecology
Coffee plot in Chenalho

Coffee plot in Chenalho. The ground is clearly visible and covered with biomass. This prevents erosion and replenishes nutrients.

Growing coffee is hard work. But if you do it right, not only can you produce a delicious energy booster – you can also help the environment.

"It wouldn't occur to a Swiss mountain farmer to grow anything on steep hillsides like the ones here in Mexico," says Cathrine Cornella, Head of Impact Development at gebana. "In addition to coffee, the family farmers even grow maize on these steep slopes. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it myself."

We source most of our coffee from the Chiapas region in Mexico, where we work with the Maya Vinic cooperative. 473 of its roughly 600 members supply us with their green coffee. The members of Maya Vinic use the most basic means to grow their crops, sometimes on very steep mountain slopes.

Each of them cultivates around 1 hectare of land on average. In many cases, this hectare is not a single continuous field, but rather spread over several small plots. Planting, caring for the coffee trees and harvesting the coffee cherries is done entirely by hand.

The family farmers plant many other trees along with coffee

These plots contain a colourful mix of trees, including some larger specimens, in addition to the coffee trees. This is because coffee trees require shade – they can't tolerate direct sunlight.

Maya Vinic's family farmers take advantage of the trees that grow naturally in the area or plant their own, such as banana trees. But chalum trees, caspirols, avocados, macadamias, lychees, citrus trees and Spanish cedars also grow on the plots.

Thus, the family farmers increase biodiversity and help preserve the local ecosystem. Moreover, nearly all the members of Maya Vinic have organic certification and a few are still in the process of transitioning to organic. This means they don't use artificial fertilisers or pesticides. Instead, they use their own compost.

Coffee plot in Yochib

A coffee plot in Yochib that still needs additional shade trees in some areas.

Coffee is the only income source

For most of the family farmers in the cooperative, the coffee plantations are their only source of income. Some produce honey and cocoa in addition, but only in small quantities. They grow maize, beans and plantains for their own consumption.

With average yields of 600 kilograms per hectare, the families earn an annual income of around 4'000 US dollars. That's nearly 1'000 dollars more than the current national minimum annual wage in Mexico. This money is all the families have to support themselves and also to pay their workers. They need the extra help, especially at harvest time. But 4'000 dollars is far too little to cover the costs.

Higher yields could solve part of the problem. "Yields are typically very low due to a lack of nutrients. In the conventional sector, yields can be twice as high. We're only using compost at the moment," says Abelino Vazquez Perez. His role at Maya Vinic is to manage the organic certification of the family farmers and ensure that they all comply with the organic regulations.

"Our best growers produce 1'000 kilos per hectare, but most of them aren't quite there yet," says Perez. They could increase their productivity if they planted more shade and fruit trees. Mulch from pruning waste could also increase yields, as could compost in sufficient quantities. Right now, family farmers only bring in as much compost as they have themselves, but it's not enough.

We paid out €34'217 in premiums to family farmers in May

In addition to higher yields, higher prices could also help improve the income of family farmers. Here's how it works: The cooperative comes to us every year with a price proposal. We then negotiate this starting price, taking the current world market price into account. The result is usually well above the current world market price.

At the end of May 2024, we included Maya Vinic's family farmers in the gebana model and gave them a share of the sales price of their coffee in our online shop for the first time. In the end, €34'217 went back to Mexico.

Payment from the gebana model Mexico

A gathering was held for the payment of the premium from the gebana model in Mexico.

Each family received around €72 on average. Although the amount was relatively low, it still corresponds to around 5 to 6 per cent of the price of coffee per kilo. The producers were delighted. "I'm thrilled about this premium," said Zenaida Hernandes Gomez from Xax-Jemel in Chenalhó. "Out of all our customers, gebana is the only one who pays this kind of premium."

Some of the producers now want to invest their share in their plots. Pablo Vasquez Ruiz, the former president of Maya Vinic, is one of them. "I would like to use the premium to invest in reforestation and more shade trees."

For Antonio Guterrez Perez from Tzajalchen in Chenalho, the premium is also a great help. "I will use the premium for family, healthcare and medical expenses, as well as for food, especially now during the dry season."

Auszahlung gebana Modell Mexiko Detail

Each producer must personally confirm receipt of the premium. As a result, the payouts take quite a long time.

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