Today, December 5, is UN World Soil Day, and this year’s campaign, “Soils: Where Food Begins,” aims to address the growing challenges in soil management, increase soil awareness, and encourage societies to improve soil health. According to the FAO, 95% of our food comes from the soil, yet 33% of the Earth’s soils are already degraded.
Regenerative agriculture is one tool we can use to protect this valuable resource. We spoke to Leon Sanchez Blanco, Global Agronomy Manager at Sucafina, to find out more about the important role regenerative agriculture practices can play in addressing soil health challenges, benefiting coffee farmers and the environment.
Can you tell us about your role as Global Agronomy Manager at Sucafina?
My role involves supporting country teams as they identify and implement Good Agricultural Practices and projects or initiatives that make farmers’ agricultural production more efficient and sustainable. This also includes sharing best practices and building capacity through training among the country teams.
Why is soil health so important for coffee production?
Protecting and improving soil health is the foundation of sustainable agricultural production. The soil is a living and evolving entity – like us – made of mineral matter (earth), organic matter, water, and air. It also contains microorganisms, which are essential for nutrient cycling, breaking down crop residue, and stimulating plant growth. Because they perform valuable ecosystem services, healthy soils, unlike depleted and unhealthy soils, are an important tool for making coffee crops more resilient and efficient and they have a positive and direct impact on farmers’ livelihoods. This is especially important in areas that are experiencing or will experience adverse climate conditions.
What exactly is regenerative agriculture? What practices does it involve?
Regenerative agriculture is a key step forward in sustainable agriculture. This farming system includes a set of agricultural practices based on 5 basic principles: keep the soil covered, maintain living roots, minimize soil disturbance, increase plant diversity, and integrate livestock (if present).
In coffee, this might include the use of ground cover crops between coffee tree rows and mulching crops with crop residues. It might also involve increasing the use of organic fertilizers, reducing the use of agrochemicals, implementing agroforestry systems by planting forest trees and/or fruit trees in coffee plots or their borders, and protecting water sources with, for instance, riparian (stream) buffers.
Regenerative agriculture is one of the key focus areas of Sucafina’s responsible sourcing program, IMPACT, so it’s something we’re focusing on right now.
What are the benefits for farmers and the environment?
Soil health is the cornerstone for cultivating coffee successfully, and because regenerative agriculture can increase the resilience and productivity of coffee crops, it can improve farmer incomes. In addition, carbon market and carbon credit programs, among others, can allow farmers to benefit from payments for the ecosystem services that regenerative agriculture brings.
On the environmental side, regenerative agriculture preserves and restores soil health, enhances biodiversity and water resources, reduces carbon emissions, and sequesters/fixes carbon in the soil and biomass, with direct, positive impacts on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
How does Sucafina plan to address regenerative agriculture through the IMPACT program?
IMPACT provides a framework and methodology to assess where coffee farmers and suppliers are in terms of regenerative agriculture implementation. It’s also a way to track their progress and identify areas for improvement, which will be the basis of the regenerative agriculture projects and interventions that Sucafina and its partners will develop with farmers and suppliers.
Find out more about IMPACT, Sucafina’s responsible sourcing program, on our website.
Sucafina supports the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are directly contributing to 15 out of the 17 SDGs through all of our sustainability actions and initiatives.