Updated on July 3, 2019
For Maria Aparecida Silva, coffee is life. As the owner of Sítio Ribeirão da Onça, a small coffee farm in the Furnas Lake region of Brazil, she has supported herself and her family with her farm for over 65 years. In that time, she has watched the price of land rise significantly and has had to learn how to produce more with the less, operating on only a 5-hectare farm today. Below we share her story on how she is making this work with new skills and knowledge that are enabling her to pass down her legacy to future generations.
Better practices, higher productivity
In 2013, Maria joined an UTZ training program for small coffee farmers in Brazil called the Caminho Sustentia initiative. The initiative aims to increase efficiency in coffee production through technical assistance by teaching good agricultural practices and management techniques. Since then, Maria has noticed and felt the changes.
“UTZ certification has had a positive impact on aspects of quality improvements and value aggregation,” she says. “It has helped us reduce the costs of production, reduce energy and improve the quality and access to markets that are interested in sourcing from small farms.”
UTZ certification has had a positive impact on aspects of quality improvements and value aggregation.
By learning new farming techniques, such as composting and good pruning practices, Maria was able to increase harvest performances without having to hire any external workers. She has also been able to install new eco-pulping machinery that allows her to use less energy and water when processing the coffee beans.
Another notable benefit has been the quality of the coffee itself. Due to the high levels of moisture the region gets from Furnas Lake, chances of coffee beans fermenting before harvest is higher. This was an issue Maria had struggled with in the past. With the program, she was able to learn new strategies to prevent this from happening. “Training has shown us how to harvest the cherries so they are as ripe as possible, but before fermentation has occurred,” she says.
Supporting the next generations
Sítio Ribeirão da Onça is a family affair, with everyone, including the women, pitching in.
By taking advantage of the tools and education of the initiative, Maria has found it easier to sustain and support her family’s future, as well as the future of the farm. “My grandchild is graduating with a degree in Agronomy and is already working here on the farm — they have learned so well!”
The changes made through the Caminho Sustentia initiative have rippled through the community, too. Maria commented that she is beginning to notice positive impacts in the city when workers are exposed to the principles of certification and sustainability. An observation echoed in a third-party study conducted on the UTZ coffee program in Brazil which found that 90% of farmers interviewed stated that the program had been beneficial to them and they would recommend it to other farmers.
As issues of climate change continue to grow, saving resources and making the most with what they have will continue to be a challenge for Maria and her family. But, for Maria, coffee farming is the way of life she knows and loves, and through responsible practices, she is encouraged to pass it down to the next generations.
As head of the family, I have to look at good profitability to make sure we have enough in the future. Only through good management is this possible.