The coffee partnership driving landscape-level sustainability in Mexico

The partnership between Olam Coffee, part of Olam Food Ingredients, and the Rainforest Alliance in Mexico is part of the Alliance for Sustainable Landscapes and Markets, funded by USAID, which is working to conserve biodiversity and provide sustainable farmer livelihoods in the biological corridor of the La Frailescana region of Chiapas. The project recently won the Zero Deforestation Award by Reforestamos México AC as part of the Los Bóscares awards, supported by BIOFIN Mexico, the National Forestry Commission (Conafor) and the Faculty of Social Responsibility at Anáhuac University, which recognise companies that demonstrate commitment to forest conservation.

Chiapas is one of Mexico’s key coffee-growing regions – producing over 41% of the nation’s coffee – and supports the livelihoods of over 100,000 families. However, the impact of climate change and land-use dynamics in the region are reducing the suitability of growing areas, with productivity suffering under traditional cultivation methods. This is where the risk lies, as those unable to adapt are increasingly likely to relocate their farms to higher elevation areas where the protected areas and most diverse ecosystems are located. Added to this is the current trend of warmer, drier weather patterns combined with agricultural expansion, causing a higher frequency of uncontrolled fires, with the resulting deforestation and degradation posing a significant threat to ecosystems, productive landscapes and the local population´s well-being.

Olam’s field staff have worked alongside coffee farmers in the region for over seven years, providing coffee seedlings and productivity assistance, tackling leaf rust and regenerating farms that may otherwise have been abandoned. This landscape partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, which was launched in 2018, is an opportunity to scale up these efforts and equip 800 farmers with the resources and skills they need to mitigate climate change, increase their productivity, quality and access to the market. It will also contribute to Olam Coffee’s commitment to ensure zero deforestation in our supply chains by 2025, as set out in our new sustainability strategy Coffee LENS.

We are working to restore degraded agricultural land by promoting agroforestry practices, which primarily involves re-establishing vegetation cover with coffee seedlings and native forest trees. By supporting farmers to enjoy a profitable and sustainable coffee business, we remove the incentive to encroach into natural protected areas and instead, engage them in good environmental stewardship. This way, we hope to change the trajectory of degradation, towards a living landscape where farmers prosper in thriving communities. This is our ambition for delivering a transformative impact, under the principles of Olam’s AtSource Infinity programmes and the Rainforest Alliance.

Progress to date

We have distributed half a million coffee saplings so far, to replace old stock, which, combined with the climate-smart agronomic training, has already increased the yields of 200 farmers by 60% on average.

Under the project’s focused restoration efforts, more than 300,000 forest trees have been planted, with a target of 800,000 by 2023 and to restore and protect 5,000 hectares in and around La Sepultura and Frailescana natural protected areas. This is contributing to Mexico’s goal of zero deforestation and a 30% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030. These efforts complement the federal and state agencies’ collaborative actions to help eradicate uncontrolled fires in this landscape and the entire region.

The ability to track landscape-level improvements under this partnership and credibly communicate the broader sustainability benefits to Olam’s AtSource customers, USAID and other key stakeholders, will strengthen participation and support for the project, and unlock further opportunities to scale up the agroforestry efforts.

Measuring impact at landscape level

Perhaps the most unique aspect of this multi-stakeholder initiative is the approach to assessing and evidencing sustainability impact at landscape scale using the LandScale system. LandScale provides the right framework to measure and monitor the net increase of productive areas, from agroforestry and restoration of degraded over-grazed land into coffee production. It also helps align the interests of all partners involved, including government agencies, who are not directly involved in restoration activities on the ground, but share the mutual objective of halting habitat destruction from uncontrolled fires, through incentivising the roll out of payment for ecosystem services (PES) mechanisms in participating communities.

LandScale includes three main components – an assessment framework, verification mechanism, and reporting platform – which enable the private sector, governments, and civil society to access reliable information that can guide and incentivize sustainability improvements at scale.

LandScale tailors the assessment framework to the landscape. It offers guidance for conducting the assessment, including direction on defining the landscape’s boundary, selecting relevant indicators and performance metrics, collecting data, and reporting results. After completing an assessment, partners can communicate the results to key stakeholders. One way to do this is via the online reporting platform, available from mid-2021. The platform facilitates the assessment process and publicises results to decision-makers such as buyers, investors, and governments.

LandScale also provides a verification mechanism to enable credible and transparent claims about landscape performance and a specific organisation’s contribution to, or association with, a landscape.

For more information, visit:

  • Jeremy Dufour is Sustainability Projects general manager at Olam Coffee and Sophie Persey is LandScale senior manager at the Rainforest Alliance

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