From the grounds up, study seeks sustainable 'java'

July 16, 2013 by Byblaine Friedlander
From the grounds up, study seeks sustainable 'java'
A Colombian coffee farmer scans his holdings and his crop. Credit: Juan Nicolás Hernandez-Aguilera

Baristas rejoice! Cornell professors seek to brew agricultural, environmental and economic sustainability together for the world's smallholder coffee bean growers.

Looking to improve conditions for small farms in Colombia, professors in economics and are examining the entire supply chain – from the tiny producers to the – to gain insight into consistently delivering quality coffee at a fair price for all.

"I think we're the first team to measure the environment and biodiversity in a systematic way," says Miguel Gómez, professor at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. The comprehensive study, funded by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, will measure the diversity of the fauna, examine the energy, measure the and train farmers to pollute less – all to develop a sustainable, viable coffee system.

In a partnership with Gómez, Harold Van Es, professor of soil and , will focus on land management. Van Es explains that will be studied for physical, biological and chemical properties. "We hope to see a relationship between a farm's soil characteristics and how the farmers manage their land," he said.

Ximena Rueda, a research associate at Stanford University, will link the biophysical and socioeconomic data, and examine land use for sustainability.

Later in July, graduate students Juan Nicolas Hernandez and Colleen Anunu, (who is a buyer for Ithaca-based Gimme! Coffee) will visit Colombia for six weeks to gather socioeconomic data from small farms and evaluate sustainability factors. Also, the graduate students will measure the impact of economic supply-chain models.

The researchers will partner with Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers, who use the up-and-coming Relationship Coffee Model, or RCM. This model offers roasters and small farmers the opportunity to establish a direct, long-term trading partnership for high-quality coffee. In return for the strong relationship, the farmers earn a sustainable fair price in the market – and RCM is less vulnerable to market fluctuations, says Gómez.

Small farms can become fair-trade certified (a different model), but must pay to participate. Many small farmers – who have two acres or less and earn less than $6,000 a year – can't afford the fair trade certification fees and are thus impeded from participating.

Said Gómez: "Specialty coffee is becoming more like wine. High quality will get you good prices."

Explore further: Green: The new color of rice

Related Stories

Green: The new color of rice

December 2, 2011

Rice consumers worldwide can now look forward to eating "green" rice with the launch of an initiative that will set environmentally sustainable and socially responsible rice production management standards.

How climate-friendly is your cup of coffee?

July 3, 2013

Coffee drinkers are encouraged to buy environmentally-friendly coffee, whether it be certified, organic or shade coffee (grown under the shade of trees that are important habitat for birds), but how effective are these ways ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria

July 31, 2015

Bacteria use antibiotics as a weapon and even produce more antibiotics if there are competing strains nearby. This is a fundamental insight that can help find new antibiotics. Leiden scientists Daniel Rozen and Gilles van ...

Out of the lamplight

July 31, 2015

The human body is governed by complex biochemical circuits. Chemical inputs spur chain reactions that generate new outputs. Understanding how these circuits work—how their components interact to enable life—is critical ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.