Enviromental Studies toasts its partnership with CoopeAgri

Last month, York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) celebrated the success of CoopeAgri, a Costa Rican farmers’ cooperative and one of the Faculty’s key partners, which hosted more than 100 coffee producers, importers and roasters from around the world for a Fair Trade Business Week conference, Nov. 24 to 27 in San Isidro, Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica.

On Nov. 25, York’s Las Nubes Café, located in the Computer Science & Engineering Building, gave away free coffee and sweets in celebration of CoopeAgri’s success. Surrounded by students, FES Dean Barbara Rahder gave a speech applauding the farmers’ cooperative. The event was filmed and sent to Costa Rica for viewing the following day at an organic breakfast sponsored by FES and the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation.

Right: Dean Barbara Rahder and students from the Faculty of Environmental Studies toast the success of CoopeAgri

Las Nubes Coffee, a sustainable, fair trade-certified coffee sold by organizations at York and available across Canada through Timothy’s World Coffee, is produced by CoopeAgri. Through the Las Nubes Centre for Neotropical Conservation & Research, FES researchers have worked with CoopeAgri to promote ecologically sound coffee production and processing.

“CoopeAgri is a model of socially equitable enterprise in the region,” said Rahder. “It has contributed to environmental projects of reforestation and social awareness regarding environmental protection.”

FES Professor Howard Daugherty participated in the events in Costa Rica, speaking about the strategic alliance between the professors and students of FES, CoopeAgri and Timothy’s Coffees of the World as a model of collaboration between public, private and cooperative sectors. He also spoke at the organic breakfast that featured Las Nubes Coffee and at the closing ceremony.

Left: Coffee farmer Luis Angel Rojas picks organically-grown coffee cherries on his farm in Quizarra, Costa Rica. (Coffee cherries become coffee beans following depulping.)

Twice a year, two groups of FES students travel to Costa Rica and work closely with CoopeAgri as part of the Faculty’s Field Course in Applied Tropical Ecology & Rural Sustainability taught by Daugherty and York PhD candidate Chris Saker. Over its history, more than 300 students from FES and other York faculties have participated in the field course.

“When we visited Costa Rica, CoopeAgri’s farmers that grow our Las Nubes Coffee were very hospitable and kind. Not only did they take the time to show us all the processes involved in coffee farming, roasting and cupping, they also welcomed us into their homes and families," said Iuliana Dutkay, an FES graduate student who participated in the Las Nubes field course last year. "With this event we wanted to say thank you, congratulate them on all they have achieved and show them that once we leave Costa Rica and return home we continue to support them and raise awareness about the importance of sustainable agriculture.” 

Right: The Las Nubes Rainforest reserve, site of the Las Nubes field course

One of the largest cooperatives in Costa Rica and a leader in innovation in sustainability, CoopeAgri was created to offer a viable solution to the industrialization and commercialization problems faced by small and medium local coffee producers in the area of San Isidro, in the municipality of Pérez Zeledón. The co-op was established in 1962 and today has over 12,000 member farmers. It is a pioneer enterprise in the region, comprising not only agricultural operations, but also supermarkets and gas stations, and offers financial and credit services to small producers. On the opening of the Fair Trade Business Week, Pérez Zeledón was declared by the mayor and the municipality as “the first Fair trade city of the Americas.”

Fair trade principles and equity are the foundation of CoopeAgri, which has developed and implemented various community projects, including Leaders of the Future, an educational program promoting socially equitable entrepreneurship, and a medical service program for making health care more accessible to its members and their families. The co-op has also created a program for low income groups called Navideños – both FES and Timothy’s made donations to this program.

CoopeAgri’s contributions to government policies include carbon dioxide reduction, reforestation and environmental protection, for which they have been recognized by the Ministry of Environment in Costa Rica. Daugherty and several FES graduate students are currently working on a carbon zero strategy with CoopeAgri to be achieved by 2021.

“FES and York are proud of our association with CoopeAgri and of Pérez Zeledón and we hope to strengthen our relationship through a commitment of the University and the Faculty of Environmental Studies to the Las Nubes Project,” said Rahder.