Growing coffee to create a green belt as a buffer zone to protect the biodiversity in the Serranía de San Lucas in Colombia

The initiative is a community effort to promote sustainable coffee practices to prevent deforestation and hunting around conservation areas

Photo of Carlos Andres Valderrama Vasquez
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Eligibility Criteria

  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Carlos Andrés Valderrama Vásquez MV. MSc.

Initiative's representative date of birth

June 3 / 1977

Initiative's representative gender

  • Man

Headquarters location: country

  • Colombia

Headquarters location: city

Bogota D.C.

Where are you making a difference?

Serrania de San Lucas has been proposed as a protected area and comprises 470.856 hectares. The project is located in the buffer zone in the municipality of Santa Rosa del Sur, Bolivar, in Colombia

Website or social media url(s)

www.webconserva.org www.facebook.com/webconserva www.instagram.com/webconserva www.twitter.com/webconserva www.facebook.com/cafeconserva www.instagram.com/cafeconserva www.twitter.com/cafeconserva www.linkedin.com/in/cvalderramavasquez

Date Started

March / 2017

Project Stage

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan going forward)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €50k - €100k

Organization Type

  • Nonprofit/NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

WebConserva is a Colombian NGO dedicated to conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems in Colombia. It creates novel strategies to mitigate the pressure on biodiversity including loss of habitats. The goal is to reduce hunting and human-wildlife conflict by scaling conservation and wild carnivores-friendly coffee production to generate alternative income. The “Aha!” moment happened when we visited farms in the Serrania de San Lucas that were having conflict with wild carnivores that were eating their cattle. We were also introduced to coffee growers that were struggling due to low coffee prices. We had a series of meetings and designed a strategy with the community to stop deforestation and hunting and improve the livelihoods of people

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Serrania de San Lucas is a critical biologically diverse corridor that provides key habitat for large carnivores such as Andean bears (Tremarctos ornatus; VU) and jaguars (Panthera onca, NT), but it is currently threatened by the increasing expansion of coca plantations and pastures for cattle ranching. The lack of roads and knowledge to produce good quality products has made it difficult for the communities to access markets outside the region, commercialize products and obtain better prices

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

WebConserva is working with coffee roasters and the communities that are producing Arabic coffee around the Serrania de San Lucas to promote sustainable practices to prevent deforestation and hunting, minimize watershed contamination and improve the income of coffee growers. We are setting up a production business model for communities living around well conserved areas to promote the establishment of sustainable crops around the conservation area to serve as an agroforestry green belt buffer zone adjacent to the forest. For that purpose, we are currently establishing with the community practices, protocols and procedures to improve the quality and consistency of the coffee and to stop deforestation and hunting. We are training coffee growers to use sustainable practices and monitoring the deforestation and biodiversity with camera traps around the coffee producing area. We are proposing a Coffee Processing Centre for the region that will serve as a training facility, to centralize and standardize production to improve the quality of the coffee. Lastly, we designed a communication strategy to create awareness and access specialized markets abroad that will provide better prices

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

This project innovates because it is developing a business model and a communication strategy to create biodiversity awareness and commercialize specialty coffee by establishing strong and long lasting relationships between farmers, coffee roasters and biodiversity. The project integrates biodiversity conservation in a critical conservation area, with production of Colombian speciality coffee that has an excellent reputation worldwide, training of coffee growers to improve the quality of the coffee to access specialized markets, biodiversity monitoring and reducing illegal deforestation and hunting. We are improving communities’ livelihoods and it will serve as a differentiator for the region to accomplish UN Sustainable Development Goals

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

Our project engages people and organizations across multiple sectors including: communities living in biodiverse forests; local and global non-profits focused on biodiversity conservation and community development; private companies that commercialize the products; and the government to promote coffee exports. Key partners in our project are coffee growing families living by the forests of Serrania de San Lucas (protect forests and produce coffee), WebConserva (coordinates activities and integrates stakeholders), Urbania Café (roaster and exporter that commercialize the coffee), Procolombia (government entity that promotes exports from Colombia) and AtmosClear Canada Inc, (company attracting investors to conservation in Latin America biological corridors through a Jaguar Legacy Fund). We are actively looking for new partners and investors to scale the project to include more producer families and enhance livelihoods while nurturing and protecting forests and biodiversity

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

The project has yielded several positive impacts. It has assisted 10 families to receive firm prices to increase their income from coffee production by 20% that resulted in the sustainable management of 200 hectares of biodiverse forest with zero deforestation. As part of our communication campaign, three different roasters developed their own brands and marketing strategies based on our coffee to create biodiversity awareness and to promote the business model. The coffee roasters are helping to train the coffee growers to improve the quality of coffee. This year, through Urbania Café we achieved our first coffee export shipment to the USA. On the conservation side, the forest/ecosystems surrounding the coffee plantations continue to be healthy ecosystems as demonstrated with camera traps that have registered the presence of critically endangered species including Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti; CR) and carnivores like Andean bears (Tramarctos ornatus) and pumas (Puma concolor)

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

In order to scale the project, we need to standardize coffee production to ensure access to specialized markets and for that purpose we intend to establish a Coffee Processing Centre. The Centre will provide training to standardize quality, reduce environmental impact, and scale production over the next 5 years to engage 200 families to produce 500 tons of parchment coffee each year. To increase demand, we will market our coffee in Canada, Europe and MENA. The project will increase income for rural families, while conserving 4000 hectares of forest and maintaining carbon stocks. It will also treat waste-water effectively and facilitate the transition to organic coffee production to avoid contamination with pesticides and residues

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

Colombia is a biodiversity hotspot and the Serrania de San Lucas is a mountain range that provides key habitat for large focal vertebrates such as Andean bears, jaguars, wattled guans (Aburria aburri; NT), Dantas (Tapirus terrestris; VU) and West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus; VU). This initiative is a shared value project that provides the local communities with a better livelihood and maintains healthy ecosystems and a vibrant biological corridor benefitting not only Colombia but also Central and South America. It entails the commitment and participation of all the stakeholders including responsible farming by communities helping to prevent deforestation and protect biodiversity

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

To build on successes over the past few years with coffee production and marketing, WebConserva has developed a 5-year investment plan to scale coffee production from 10 to 200 families. The plan includes training, capacity building, installing a coffee processing centre, biodiversity monitoring and transitioning production to organic. Funding for improving production methods, coffee quality and for conservation is expected to be derived from the sales of this speciality coffee. Grant funding is being sought to fund the initial improvements so that eventually the project can be self-funded. The project is of interest to the Jaguar Legacy Fund, developed by AtmosClear Canada Inc, to invest in projects throughout the jaguar corridor

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Carlos Valderrama MSc, project director, veterinarian specialized in large carnivore conservation. Cristina Tingle MSc, project coordinator, graphic designer specialized in food styling. Philip Tingle, project financial advisor, specialized as an international finance executive. Julian Gamboa, Urbania Café partner and coffee expert. Sid Embree, AtmosClear, specialized in business and project development and financing. The team will evolve to include more local researchers and coffee growers

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Word of mouth

12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.

Currently the project has integrated 10 coffee growers that account for around 200 hectares of land with best practices and intends to include 200 families within a few years to introduce best practices in 4.000 hectares and protect 20.000 more hectares of surrounding forest. We have been conducting multi-approach studies to combine measures of species diversity, composition and functional diversity. No deforestation or hunting has been reported in the area and the initial results of the monitoring with camera traps have registered 17 species including endangered species like the Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti; CR) and the Andean bear (Tramarctos ornatus, VU), the only bear of South America. Also we carried out a study with dung beetles as a bioindicator and found 18 species. These initial results in a limited area show the biodiversity that we are protecting and demonstrates the benefits of developing this sustainable project in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

When the project started, the coffee growers were selling their coffee to the local retail store at an average price of USD 1.60/ kg of parchment coffee. There was no incentive to improve practices on the farms; even though the coffee was good, processing was inferior impacting the quality and consistency of the final product. Initial workshops were held with coffee growers to establish weaknesses and goals and WebConserva engaged coffee roasters to work with the growers. Every three months, we visit the farms to assess the implementation of best practices to improve the quality of the coffee, to check camera traps for photographs to confirm biodiversity, change batteries and monitor deforestation. At least every six months a technician from Urbania Café (coffee roaster and exporter) joins our visits to assess the status of the coffee plantations and train and provide guidance to coffee growers. Currently coffee growers are receiving between USD 2.28 and 2.73 / kg of parchment coffee

14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

The main approach in Serrania de San Lucas, led by the National Natural Parks of Colombia, is to declare the region as a protected area that comprises 470.856 hectares. However, the declaration has not yet been possible, mainly due to illegal mining of gold, coca plantations and cattle ranching. There are projects to develop sustainable crops that usually focus on species conservation to implement good practices to reduce the environmental impact caused by the productions in Colombia and across the world. Our approach differs from those, because we have an ecosystem sustainable approach that accounts for the needs of the communities, the implementation of good practices, the biodiversity monitoring and the importance of this region that is critical for the structural connectivity for many endemic and endangered species such as Blue-billed Curassow, Magdalena River turtle (Podocnemis lewyana; EN), White-footed Tamarin (Saguinus leucopus; EN) and Brown spider monkey (Ateles hybridus; VU)

15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

The project is recognized as a sustainable agricultural business and was chosen to export coffee by Procolombia. It was also recognized, reviewed and reported by Reuters and The New York Times on April 9th, 2020 in an article entitled Caffeinated conservation: Colombian farmers switch coca for coffee to protect wildlife. Links: https://nyti.ms/2RESxIy and https://reut.rs/34JmY5t. In 2017, the coffee won a competition staged by Colombian baristas

16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

The implementation of the project requires a total of USD 78.201 annually. These funds are invested as follows: 1. Coffee production, USD 56.698 to hire personnel, develop training workshops, adapt infrastructure, purchase equipment and materials and a nominal cost for land use; 2. Biodiversity monitoring, USD 14.224 to hire staff, rent equipment, for materials and field expenses; and 3. Marketing and awareness strategy, USD 4.159 to hire staff to develop printed and audio-visual materials. Finally, USD 3.120 is required for administrative, financial and legal costs. The project currently has 4 sources of funding that covers the entire budget, USD 45.853.50 (58,6%) is provided by the coffee growers and roasters as part of their production expenses, USD 15.106 (19,3%) is provided by WebConserva, USD 11.787.50 (15.1%) is provided by individual donations and USD 5.454 (7%) is provided by the coffee sales that are expected to increase gradually to replace funding from NGO and individuals

17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?

We will establish protocols and procedures to standardize good practices and stop deforestation and hunting. Coffee growers will become ambassadors, will set an example for others and we will recognize and promote women's roles. We will use the prize money principally to: 1. Establish the processing centre that will serve as a community processing plant in the region, to improve the coffee´s quality, consolidate the production and increase the volumes produced to access international specialized markets; 2. Monitor biodiversity; and 3. Design and implement a media campaign to promote the conservation of large carnivores, sustainable practices and the protection of biodiversity. Our vision for a bigger impact is that promoting our model guarantees sustainability for communities while serving as a research centre. This is key to protect the boundaries of the forest and prevent the expansion of the agricultural frontier which could be replicated anywhere with other types of crops

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Conserva coffee profile

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Photo of barry singh

In a clearing around his modest smallholding, farmer Arcadio Barajas stands before a sea of coffee plants, cloaked in the shadow cast by a wall of verdant forest that covers the San Lucas mountains of northern Colombia.
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