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FEATURE: Mobile app tracks Costa Rican coffee’s carbon footprint

A mobile app for Costa Rican coffee farmers is not only helping them reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The app also feeds into Costa Rica’s Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system: part of its national commitment on climate action to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Paul May of CDKN reports.

Reducing emissions and boosting productivity in the coffee sector

A mobile app and reporting system has been developed as part of Costa Rica’s climate change initiative in the coffee sector, NAMA Café de Costa Rica*, which brings together public, private, academic and finance sectors. NAMA Café de Costa Rica, as a whole, seeks to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced by coffee growers and processors. Coffee is one of the country’s major export crops. Programme activities include:

  • reducing the use of fertilisers,
  • using water and energy more efficiently in coffee processing,
  • promoting financial mechanisms to support eco-friendly agroforestry systems,
  • undertaking emissions audits at coffee mills,
  • differentiating coffee types (from standard to premium varieties) to support more refined marketing strategies,
  • undertaking feasibility and project design studies for low-emission technologies,
  • increasing the productivity of older coffee plants (whose yields naturally diminish after the first 20 years) – to keep them high-yielding for longer

(for more details, visit the NAMA Café de Costa Rica webpages).

The initiative is focused in the Zona los Santos, Valle Central and Valle Occidental regions of Costa Rica.

A leading-edge MRV system

The associated Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system was launched in 2016 based on ISO 14064, WRI standards and Costa Rica’s National Program on Climate Change (SINAMECC) M&E reporting system.

The system is intended to support the planning and implementation of low-emission measures, by identifying priority actions with the greatest emission reduction potential, as well as emissions reporting.

A national CR-CAFÉ app (for both desktop and mobile use) was developed and integrated into the MRV system. Farmers create a profile and input their data, such as the amount of fertiliser they use. The app contains geo-located information that is useful for crop management – and so provides an incentive for farmers to use the app.

The average age of coffee farmers is 60-70 years old and farmers may not be familiar with the digital technology involved. Thus, coffee mills are responsible for helping farmers to create a personal profile on the app, and on how to use it.

Mills are also responsible for entering production and yield information about the farms they visit. In addition to climate data, economic, social and quality data is collected. The project began by convincing larger, influential mills to join the scheme, and other mills soon followed.
Robust data for better management decisions

The data collected is sorted and analysed at the National Coffee Institute (ICAFE), which regulates Costa Rican coffee production. ICAFE has used the data to determine a more accurate baseline – because direct access to primary sources (farmers, mills) means that emissions reporting is now based on real data and no longer based on estimates. Initial findings show that coffee is responsible for just 1% of national emissions, not the 8% initially estimated.

The main sources of emissions from coffee production and processing are fertiliser use, agroforestry systems, coffee pulp, waste water, and fossil fuel use. 6,000 farmers and 500 technicians have also been trained on calculating carbon intensity.

61 mills, which process over 50% of Costa Rica’s coffee, have calculated their emissions and are applying mitigation strategies. The transparent, independent information gathered about carbon intensity can also be used to differentiate the coffee varieties produced and to identify where farmers can access premium markets.

The app is currently in the pilot stage and has 100 farmer users, with plans to scale up 1,000 users. Farmers already report a greater awareness of climate change and understanding of carbon footprints.

As the world’s first agricultural NAMA, NAMA Café de Costa Rica has created a standard for data collection that can be used for other agricultural products, in Costa Rica and beyond.

Links to further information: www.namacafe.org/en/costa-rican-coffee-nama

This case study was one of many best practices shared at the Global NDC Conference 2019, of which CDKN was an organising partner.

The NAMA initiative described here is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Government of Denmark and European Commission. It is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) | Costa Rican Ministry for Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) and Ministry for Environment and Energy (MINAE), National Coffee Institute (ICAFE) and Fundecooperación para el Desarrollo.

*Where NAMA stands for ‘Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action’ (NAMA) – see the UNFCCC’s page about NAMAs for more information.

Image: Costa Rican coffee, courtesy UGA-CAES flickr.com.

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