International Coffee Day: SSRP researchers seek to improve communication between coffee producers and technicians
Posted on behalf of: Sussex Sustainability Research Programme
Last updated: Friday, 30 September 2022
Coffee, also known as the ‘golden grain’, is one of Costa Rica’s most important and emblematic products. In a country renowned for its good environmental practices with more than 70% of its coffee produced under greenhouse gas adaptation and mitigation actions (Icafé), small-scale farmers nevertheless face the financial pressure of turning to less environmentally sustainable practices or are unable to ensure high-quality coffee beans.
Ahead of International Coffee Day tomorrow (1 October) we are highlighting research financed by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) and co-sponsored by the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) which aims at ‘supporting social, environmental and economic sustainability in the Costa Rican coffee industry’. One of the objectives of the research project led by Dr Evan Killick (School of Global Studies) is to improve the communication and data-exchange of the Costa Rican Coffee Institute (Icafé) with small-scale producers around enhancing the quality of the coffee they produce. A new report by Dr Layla Zaglul Ruiz (School of Global Studies) provides a detailed analysis of the relationship between Icafé’s experts and coffee producers and lists a series of recommendations to improve the Institute’s communication efforts.
Icafé provides free technical support to all producers, including visits to farms. The guidance given from Icafé is impartial and based on scientific evidence, aimed at developing and promoting best practice to increase producers’ returns. For many farmers, particularly small-scale coffee growers, this is their only source of technical assistance. Therefore, assuring Icafé’s information is easily accessible and set out clearly is extremely important in optimising coffee bean production.
The study details how most producers are satisfied with the quality of the technical visits offered by Icafé’s experts, however, feel the need for more frequent visits. One grower, Abel, told Zaglul Ruiz how he struggles in the gaps between visits: ‘When they come, they advise me on what to do: when to fertilize, how to prune the plants… but then months and sometimes years pass by, and I get a little bit lost. Maybe a fungus attacks a plant or something, and I don’t know what to do. So, I go to a store and ask for a product to combat the fungus… that’s where I get the advice. But is not the same as getting it from them [Icafé], they don’t want to sell me anything, they just want the best for the coffee and us producers.’
Likewise, the technicians agree producers would benefit from a shorter gap between appointments as stronger technical assistance could prevent farmers from neglecting certain cultivation practices or facing unnecessary expenses for instance. However, in view of the fact that the number of technicians does not cover the demand of producers requesting a visit with only 27 technicians available for over 27,000 producers across Costa Rica, the report looks at other feasible and context-specific solutions.
Due to these limited resources, the recommendations detailed in the report include building on already existing informal technical support provided via online communication tools. The research helped to uncover that producers’ predilect way of communicating with Icafé’s experts is via WhatsApp, a tool already used to connect with family and friends.
However, the Institute lacks a clear strategy to further the usage and potential of this online tool in scaling up best practice. Audio-visual features such as voice notes and videos provide some degree of technical guidance, leaving visits to farms only for pertinent cases. This approach would complement Icafé’s strategy of providing in-person assistance. The report explains the steps needed for adopting this plan and outlines further recommendations to improve Icafé’s communication with producers. A summary of the report can be download in Spanish and English here.
To find more detailed information about the project ‘supporting social, environmental and economic sustainability in the Costa Rican coffee industry’, visit the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme website.