A Hilltop Coffee Plantation Benefits from Robust and Healthy Forests
On a hilltop in southeast Brazil, 4,500 feet above the surrounding landscape, is a coffee plantation that has been operating in the same family for more than 150 years—five generations. The owner and proprietor is Ellen Fontana, a woman dedicated to both her land and her family. A respect for nature grounds her business; she employs sustainable practices to minimize water use, avoid pesticides, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Her dedication and attention yield award-winning specialty coffee and a successful business, one she hopes will continue through future generations.
But in the past few years, her vision of the future has been shaken. The planet is changing—rapidly—and whether coffee production will remain viable in her area in 20 or 50 years is a legitimate concern.
“I heard from my grandparents that it used to rain a lot in January, and the dry and rainy seasons were more clearly defined,” Fontana says. “And now, for a few years, we have noticed irregularity in rainfall, high temperature peaks, hail.”
Fontana’s home in the state of São Paulo is part of the Atlantic Forest ecoregion, an area that has been ravaged by centuries of deforestation. In 2014, the region experienced its worst drought in nearly a century, leading to an unprecedented water crisis. More than 140 cities in Brazil had to ration water; coffee plantations lost up to a third of their crops. And February 2020 was the rainiest month in the region’s recorded history, resulting in catastrophic floods. When your livelihood depends on the predictability of the seasons, it’s a scary reality.
Healthy forests are critical for wildlife and ecosystems, but they also provide services to people. For farmers especially, these services can help keep land productive and resilient in the face of uncertain conditions. A forest can act as a buffer from the elements, recharging groundwater reserves, preventing soil erosion, shielding crops from extreme winds, and mitigating flooding. Forests also help preserve water quality by filtering nutrient runoff from fertilizers.
Fontana decided to maximize these benefits by restoring additional forest habitat on her property, connecting the span of natural forest on her land to another forest fragment on a neighboring property. As a participant in the Raizes do Mogi Guaçu project—a partnership between International Paper and WWF—Fontana was able to begin the restoration process in late 2019.
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