Global Programs

Café del Futuro project brings Puerto Rican coffee growers “closer to the co-op world than ever”

Members of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors and staff learn about the sustainable, shade-grown coffee practices PROCAFE is promoting.

In February, members of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors and staff visited Puerto Rico, gaining firsthand insight into the island’s growing cooperative environment and local coffee industry. A visit to the mountain town of Adjuntas showcased NCBA CLUSA and its partners’ impact in the region through Café del Futuro—a four-year project under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities pilot program.

The $15 million pilot project aims to incentivize 2,000 coffee growers across Puerto Rico’s principal coffee-producing municipalities to implement climate-smart conservation practices and bolster economic vitality in the region through access to subsidized planting material, technical assistance and cash incentives. Additionally, the project seeks to quantify greenhouse benefits from the implementation of these practices as well as expand or open new markets for climate-smart coffee products. To accomplish this, Café del Futuro brings together a consortium of cooperatives, organizations for underserved farmers, and academic bodies. Key local partners include Productores de Café de Puerto Rico (PROCAFE), University of Puerto Rico’s Estación Experimental Agrícola (UPR-EEA) and Liga de Cooperatives de Puerto Rico. SustainCERT, an independent, international carbon markets validation and verification actor, is also supporting the project.

Puerto Rico’s coffee industry has encountered serious challenges over the past decade. A sharp decline in production was amplified by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, which destroyed more than 80 percent of coffee plantations on the island; then Hurricane Fiona in 2022 damaging 35 percent of the harvest. A declining population and subsequent labor shortages also threaten the workforce, with the average age of a coffee farmer in Puerto Rico nearing 65 years old. Furthermore, unorganized farmers struggle to pay the high costs of imported fertilizers and access specialty coffee markets.

PROCAFE, a nonprofit organization supporting Puerto Rican coffee producers and farmers, was consequently established in 2018. PROCAFE has already planted more than 3.5 million trees in the five years since the hurricanes. Building upon this past success, Café del Futuro is committed to continue enriching the landscape by planting an additional 2.7 million trees over the coming years.

In partnership with NCBA CLUSA’s Café del Futuro project, PROCAFE has leveraged their position in the coffee-growing community to boost the adoption of sustainable, shade-grown coffee practices, subsidized through USDA funding. Thus far, more than 250 agreements have been signed with local coffee growers to participate in the project, with 133 fully enrolled by meeting USDA environmental compliance regulations.

PROCAFE Executive Director CJ Acosta (center) and Board Member Remy Rodriguez (right) meet with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Xochitl Torres Small at NCBA CLUSA’s Cooperative IMPACT Conference in October 2023.

The project also encourages the cooperative business model to reduce costs, encourage local self-management and increase market access for coffee growers. According to CJ Acosta, Executive Director of PROCAFE, “this initiative brings us closer than ever to the co-op world.” The organization is also looking to credit unions as an alternative to more exploitative lenders to provide farmers with access to capital in the form of microloans.

Raising local ownership of coffee production holds significant potential for Puerto Rico’s economy. Currently, less than 20 percent of the island’s coffee demand is met by local farmers—the vast majority of coffee is imported from outside countries, along with the revenues. An increase in locally-grown coffee would mean that “the money stays [in the community]. That’s what we’re looking for,” said Jorge Sanders, an adviser at PROCAFE.

As Café del Futuro nears the completion of its first year of programming, the project is looking ahead to further engaging with the coffee-growing community to expand implementation and strengthen the crop’s place in the market. Through Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, NCBA CLUSA, USDA and local partners are committed to supporting the climate-resilient agriculture and cooperative sectors in Puerto Rico.

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