Coffee plantations of the Scolel'te Program and its impacts

The state of Chiapas has a great wealth of terrestrial ecosystems. From the totality of its extension, at least 57% of its surface are forest areas (CONAFOR, 2016). According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography in Mexico (2015), 95% of its population works in the agricultural sector, which is dedicated, mainly, to agriculture and small-scale grazing.

Coffee is the main agricultural product of Chiapas and it´s the first state produce coffee at national level. Mexico is the tenth largest exporter of coffee worldwide (SAGARPA, 2016).

The coffee is for the families of rural communities in the state of Chiapas, the the most important input in their sustenance. This is the reason why the Scolel'te program works with an agroforestry system for carbon sequestration, called Tropical Coffee with Timber Trees (AF-CAFÉ-TRO1). 

This agroforestry system aims to take an advantage of all the spaces that are available in the coffee plantations, by planting trees of commercial value, such as: cedar and mahogany, fruit trees, other non-timber trees (as palms), in such a way to improve the shade for the coffee. In the short term, fruits and other non-timber products can be obtained, in the long term, timber for local use or sale. This agroforestry system contributes to improve the incomes and the food security of the families.

The system is designed to be implemented at heights ranging from 600 meters to 1,700 meters from sea level. With this system, up to 39 tons of carbon per hectare can be captured, which means an extra income for the cultivation of a sustainable coffee.

The sustainable coffee under shade is an important ally to stop deforestation and forest degradation, in addition to its contribution to conserve biodiversity. According to the Guide to Good Practices for Sustainable Coffee in Mexico, shade-grown coffee employs more than 70 different tree species.

In addition, the guide points out that coffee plantations are  varied (up to 500 species of useful flora), they contribute to pollination and conserve the fauna.  The presence of bats is identified as an indicator of the contribution of the coffee plantation in the conservation of biodiversity.

The Scolel'te Program works with 138 hectares under the system of Tropical Coffee with Timber Trees, in the regions of:  Selva, Sierra Madre, Ocote, Chol and Tseltal. It collaborates with 31 communities that cultivate coffee for consumption and commercialization. Four of these communities in the Selva Region are members of the association SPOSEL (Society of Organic Producers of the Lacandona Forest) for the trade of organic shade-grown coffee, certified and under the fair trade scheme; as well as, three other communities of the Sierra Madre that sell organic coffee in the local market.

The potential sales and incomes with parchment coffee for these communities ranges around $230 per hectare cultivated. This, together with payments for carbon sequestration, contribute to diversify the sources of incomes for the rural families participating in the Scolel'te Program.

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