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Linking Economic Opportunities to Conservation in Peru

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Eliseo Condor Ayre is a small-scale producer of shade-grown organic coffee in Chanchamayo, Peru’s coffee center nestled in the lush, eastern slopes of the Andes. Peru is home to the largest number of bird species in the world and the third largest number of mammals, the majority of which are concentrated in the high Andean jungle and neighboring lowlands. These foothills owe their rich biodiversity to the Amazon River and its tributaries, which weave together the most complex ecosystem in South America.

Client Profile: A.P.C.E. Mountain Coffee

Yet, the Amazon hangs in a precarious balance, threatened by increasing pressure to convert tropical forests into croplands and a lack of economic options for the region’s inhabitants. As a result, people in this region have typically turned to the immediate economic benefits of logging and clear cutting.

Alternative models exist: ones that anchor on the link between creating sustainable economic wealth and conserving the environment. “We entered the world of environmental conservation as a result of certain demand from our buyers,” says Eliseo, who is also the general manager of the Asociación de Productores de Cafés Especiales (A.P.C.E.) Mountain Coffee, a 10 year-old coffee cooperative with more than 450 members that has been a Root Capital client for three years. “Because of that, we produce organic coffee and sustainable coffee.”

The shade-grown organic coffee produced by Mountain Coffee is planted among other, taller trees, often alongside other subsistence or cash crops; it can thus be incorporated into existing farming and agroforestry systems or polyculture production systems. A traditional shade-grown coffee farm often resembles a forest because of its many layers of trees, which support numerous plant, animal, and bird species. Shade-grown coffee trees also boast a longer productive life than their sun-grown counterparts and can play a role in helping farmers adapt to climate change: recent studies reveal that shade canopy produces a cooling effect of 3–7 degrees Fahrenheit, which helps maintain product quality by offsetting rising temperatures and pest outbreaks.

By linking economic opportunities with environmental stewardship, Mountain Coffee is providing a positive model for protecting the fragile biodiversity of the Amazon. Increasing demand for specialty coffee in global markets has clearly played an important role. “The success of Keurig Green Mountain is inextricably linked to the success of our farmers and planet,” says Michael Dupee, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for Keurig Green Mountain. “By purchasing Fair Trade Certified organic coffee from environmentally and socially responsible producers like Mountain Coffee, we’re able to reduce our environmental footprint, strengthen our value chain, and meet the burgeoning demand for specialty coffee head on.”

At Mountain Coffee, credit and commodity markets have led to economic development and environmental conservation. Eliseo reflects, “If it weren’t for the opportune financing we receive from Root Capital, we might not be able to realize our plan to foster quality, better organic production, and social responsibility.”