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CIRAD partners with industry leaders to reduce pesticide use in coffee farming

The French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) has partnered with leading businesses in the global coffee sector to launch the Ecoffee R&D initiative. Ecoffee R&D aims to reduce the need for pesticide use in conventional coffee farming, with an aspiration towards zero pesticide when viable for farmers.

By pooling expertise, human and financial resources, and networks, the partners initiated an international audit of pesticide use and practices. Major results are expected from this unique scientific study, which will serve as a reference for the initiative in support of the whole coffee sector.

CIRAD says the long-term and intensive use of pesticides, including herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides, in agriculture raises concern for the environment, its biodiversity, and the people who live in it. It adds the extent to which ecosystems are impacted by pesticide use in coffee farming is insufficiently addressed.

Supported by the Agropolis Fondation, a large private-public consortium has been created to tackle this pressing issue in coffee. Alongside CIRAD, seven roasters (illycaffè, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Lavazza Group, Nestlé, Paulig, Starbucks Corporation, and Tchibo), three green coffee suppliers (Ecom, Mercon, and Olam) and three research organizations in Brazil (Universidade Federal de Viçosa), Nicaragua (the NicaFrance Foundation), and Vietnam (the Western Highlands Agriculture & Forestry Science Institute) have joined the initiative.

Through successive research and development projects, the key principle of Ecoffee R&D is to set up an international Experimental on-Farm Testing Network , which will host experimental studies dedicated to the evaluation of non-pesticide pest control approaches. Beyond experimentation, Ecoffee R&D members will put particular emphasis on dissemination and communication to ensure effective appropriation of knowledge by farmers . Deliberately pre-competitive, the initiative is targeting large and tangible impacts from the research and innovation process for all stakeholders in the value chain.

Members of the Ecoffee R&D initiative already started to put their objectives into action. In order to build their global initiative on clear scientific evidence , they have prioritised thorough evaluation studies of pesticide use in coffee growing. These unprecedented baseline studies, implemented by research partners with strong on-the-ground support from industrial partners, have just started in four representative coffee-producing countries: Brazil and Vietnam as the top two coffee-producing countries, and Mexico and Nicaragua as Latin American representatives.

Through farmer surveys combined with the analyses of more than 600 pesticide residues in coffee cherries, green coffee and soils and insect biodiversity assessments , Ecoffee R&D’s baseline studies will compare the various contrasting cropping systems encountered in the target countries. Advanced knowledge of pesticide use in coffee farming will thereby emerge and will be made publicly accessible through scientific publications. These results will also serve as a reference for monitoring the potential of pest management innovations to be tested at later stages in the Ecoffee international network.

Ecoffee R&D’s trajectory and governance are still under construction. The initiative intends to go further and seek all possible expertise that could help reach Ecoffee R&D’s goals, while developing producer best practices and economic viability. In 2021, two collective actions will be taken: Ecoffee will start building bridges with major coffee sustainability platforms and organise a thematic workshop to bring experts together to review and share state-of-the-art knowledge on pesticide use and potential-reducing solutions.

At a later stage, Ecoffee will launch a participatory call for innovation to identify the most promising innovations existing in various commodity chains, which can then be evaluated downstream in the Ecoffee network. Advocating space for all relevant stakeholders, Ecoffee partners will rely on collective intelligence to allow farmer organisations, research institutes, and private companies to contribute.

Through its successive stages, the Ecoffee R&D initiative is therefore paving the way for a ten-year roadmap in support of an agroecological transition in coffee farming, for the benefit of all.

Image: Coffee farmer survey in Nicaragua focusing on pesticide use and practices, and installation of insect sticky traps for biodiversity assessments © M. Bordeaux

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