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Arnaud Causse, Director of Transition, on his farm Las Terrazas del Pisque, Ecuador.

Coffee06 February 2024

"The most important thing for us is sustainability" - Arnaud Causse, Director of Transition

Close to Belco since 2006, as a coffee supplier with his farms Las Tolas and Las Terrazas del Pisque, Arnaud officially joined Belco at the end of 2022. He is now Transition Director. What are his responsibilities?

Hi Arnaud, how did you get into Belco?

Long before I came to Belco, I was working on characterising coffees from the Dominican Republic. To help me, I needed someone who knew the world's coffees. That's when I met Nicolas Bellangé, Alexandre's father, who joined the panel of experts convened for the project. That was shortly before Belco was founded.

At the same time, I was producing coffee in Ecuador, at Las Tolas and then at Terrazas del Pisque. I was one of Belco's very first suppliers of specialty coffee. A customer-supplier relationship that continues today. At the same time, Belco was looking for someone to take over the management of the agency in El Salvador. I only held this position for a few months, before moving on to Transition in August 2023.

So what exactly is Transition?

In practice, the aim is to help producers move towards a more virtuous form of coffee growing.

Like any transition, it's a gradual change. What counts is the approach, to get closer to a social and environmental ideal. The idea is to move away from practices that are harmful to the environment, to society and to health. And, of course, without any negative impact on productivity, quality, price, costs and, therefore, on producers' net income.

A transition that goes beyond agricultural practices?

Yes, completely. Because we're interested in sustainability. And sustainability is as much about regenerative agriculture as it is about favourable working and health conditions for producers, their employees and consumers alike. It's as much about profitability as it is about the transferability of the farm. This is a subject that is of great concern to us at Belco, because for the transition to take place, coffee production has to continue, with new generations.

What is the highest priority?

Firstly, with regard to farming practices, the priority is to stop using plant protection products. And the easiest thing to stop using is herbicides. In regenerative agriculture, the capital is the soil. It has to be preserved as much as possible.

Producers who have already embarked on this path tell us that it's much easier than it looks, with positive impacts on production. This is the case, for example, for Juan José Arévalo Cortez, the owner of Finca Santa Gertrudis in El Salvador. Here, a transition is underway.

There's a lot of talk about the average age of producers. How can we motivate the younger generation to take the plunge?

The most important thing is the profitability of a farm. You have to ensure an income that allows the producer, his family, and his employees to live decently.

The price of coffee must cover production costs and leave producers with an income higher than the minimum wage in rural areas, in the zone where they live. And one of the missions of the transition is to communicate the cost of a coffee and explain its selling price, with complete transparency.

Does this also include post-harvest support for producers?

Yes, because it's also about limiting the negative impact of our processes on the environment. It's also about managing waste and recycling by-products such as cascara, leaves, flowers and possibly coffee tree honey.

All this, without any impact on quality. One of the tasks of the transition could be to give producers the opportunity to carry out the first stage of the process on the plantation. Rather than having to travel a long way to take the cherries to a washing station, without the pulp returning to the plantation to be recycled or used as compost.

How did you support the La Alpina farm in its move to produce natural process coffees?

It's a two-part project, on a farm that ticked several boxes for a good agricultural model, with several layers of shade and complex agroforestry production.

Firstly, we wanted to have a product that would stand out from the crowd, and add value in terms of quality.

Transition worked with the producer, Cyrille Beraud, to help him with his water supply problems. There is no spring or river on the Chaparrastique volcano, where La Alpina is located. To get water, you have to pump it from very low down, which consumes a lot of energy.

Traditionally, water was collected in huge reservoirs. Switching to a natural process enabled us to produce a different product, using less water, and being profitable for the first time.

In a way, this plantation served as a laboratory. Sharing knowledge between growers to pool their knowledge and make the most of their experience is also part of my Transition strategy.

We're talking about a laboratory, when Belco sets up an experimental farm, El Olvido. Why this farm?

The aim of our farm, which is located on the slopes of the San Salvador volcano in El Salvador, is to gain a better understanding of the production costs of a farm run by a single person. We want to find out how this person could generate enough income to stay on the plantation and make a living from it.

We will be testing different practices and measuring their impact. Among our first subjects, we can mention research into soil cover and the choice of ideal shade tree species.

The soil on this farm has been badly damaged by the use of herbicides, and is not at all profitable. Since we set up, we've stopped using herbicides, and set up a nursery with several varieties to test their organoleptic qualities, their resistance to rust and their adaptability to agroforestry conditions. If we succeed in increasing the plantation, we will also be better able to show producers the benefits of this transitional approach.

Eventually, each Belco branch will have its own farm, and each plot will be specialised in terms of the responses to be provided, according to the priority issues in each region.

Written by: Stéphane

Editorial Manager

Published on 06/02/2024

| Updated on 16/02/2024