15 March, 2016

Percol coffee and Fairtrade team up to fight coffee plant disease

by Harriet Matley, Percol Coffee

Percol Coffee and the Fairtrade Foundation join forces to help coffee farmers in Guatemala tackle devastating coffee plant disease, ‘La Roya’.

Percol Coffee has spent the last 25 years building long-term relationships with coffee producers around the world, from Central and South America to Indonesia. Our coffee buyers spend over 150 days a year at the farms getting to know the farmers and their land and ensuring that the producers receive the support they need to improve their living conditions and continue to sustainably grow their coffee plants.

We’ve been a long-standing supporter of the Fairtrade Foundation – we were the first ground coffee to bear the FAIRTRADE mark and some of the first Fairtrade meetings were held in our Battersea office.

We have recently got involved in a new project, funded jointly by Good for Life Charity (funded primarily through Percol sales) and the Fairtrade Foundation to tackle a coffee plant disease in Central and South America. La Roya is an aggressive fungus which eats away at the leaves of coffee plants, preventing them from flowering or producing coffee beans. This is having devastating effects across the Americas and particularly on the already marginalised, impoverished farms and farmers in the Asociacion Chajulense, in the Ixil region of Guatemala. 75% of their coffee crops have been wiped out by the disease and without help from funding, their futures and prospects are dire.

Brian Chapman, who founded Percol Coffee and is now the Chairman of Good for Life Charity, visited the projects in the Ixil region and witnessed the devastation of these coffee farms first hand. And so, Good for Life Charity committed to donating £15,000 to the ‘La Roya Recovery’ programme, set up by The Coffee Trust. Matched by the Fairtrade Foundation’s ‘Deepening Impact’ fund, the combined £30,000 was granted to the project and swiftly invested into the recovery programme in September 2015.

The project aims to strengthen promoter agricultural knowledge to pass on to farmers; this is known as the ‘campesino a campesino’ principle and has proven highly successful. Expert agronomists have shown farmers in the Asociacion Chajulense region how to control coffee rust by implementing Effective-Micro-organisms – which defend the coffee plants against La Roya. They’ve also been given advice and training on how to increase the productivity of coffee including the introduction of earthworms around the base of plants, using natural fertilizers, planting in contour lines, pruning and shading techniques and how to use coffee by-products (to name a few!).

While the project has only been running for 6 months, the improvement in the coffee plants has been absolutely inspiring! The greatest challenge has been to influence farmers with new technologies, advice and skills. Given that the majority of their crops were destroyed, they were reluctant to adapt new strategies. However, 95% of farmers have not only adopted the use of Effective Micro-organisms, but have begun to experiment with other soil replenishment practices they have been taught.

On top of learning how to defend coffee plants from La Roya, the program has also focused on training women in the community how best to use soil improvement techniques to increase productivity of other crops, such as vegetables and the benefits of not only introducing earthworms to the soil but of adding them in to the diet of chickens – increasing the quality of their eggs.

The project is in early stages but everyone involved is thrilled by the progress made so far. We’ll have another report later in the year and look forward to sharing more with you then.

Our MD, David Brooks, says of the project, ‘We are committed to supporting sustainable coffee farming through major contributions to Good for Life Charity. This Fairtrade Fortnight consumers who buy Percol coffee will know that coffee farmers are not only getting a fair price but their communities are also being supported for the future.'

Percol coffee is available in major supermarkets and independent stores across the UK.

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