Protecting water resources in coffee producing areas of Central America
Presented at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Event 2013 in Boston1
On January 5 this year, the water supply for 7000 families in peri-urban neighborhoods of Matagalpa
City was severely polluted by wastewater from one or more of the coffee mills located above the water
source for these neighborhoods. The water supply system was fully shut down for two days, and then ran
only provisionally for two weeks for non-potable water purposes while the municipal water authority
cleaned the tanks and pipelines.2
As coffee production expands in Central America and as the demand rises in the region, it is urgent to
improve coffee production and processing practices to protect water sources. With that in mind, the
purpose of this presentation is to answer the following question:
How can the specialty coffee community more effectively contribute to protecting
water resources at origin?
Over the past decade, specialty coffee certifiers have introduced standards to protect water resources.
These standards often contribute to better water-related practices. However, currently coffee producers
and millers in Central America can still earn certification from the major international specialty labels
even if they contribute to water resource degradation.
We believe that if the specialty coffee industry were to put a higher priority for protecting water
resources, this would catalyze good water resource practices for the entire coffee industry.
We propose that best-practices for protecting water resources could be promoted in two ways:
Strengthen standards specifically to protect water sources
Increase incentives for farmers and millers for protecting water resources
Why is this important for the specialty coffee sector?
This year SCAA is adopting “water security” as a key element in its sustainability criteria. This
presentation is intended to contribute to the discussions and strategies the SCAA community will develop
in the coming months.
Another reason this issue is critical is supply-chain security for specialty coffee. National and local
governments in coffee growing areas are under increasing pressure to regulate coffee milling to reduce
contamination and they are responding by passing and enforcing laws. Some current laws are so stringent
Presented by Miguel Flores of Catholic Relief Services, Dr Andrew Stubblefield of Humboldt State University, and
Paul Hicks of the Global Water Initiative.
This news article appeared in the Nicaragua paper El Nuevo Diario on January 5, 2013.
that if they were enforced, many mills producing certified coffee would be shut down.3 It is in the interest
of the specialty coffee industry to lead the way to ensure that specialty coffee producers and millers are
good water stewards.
This paper builds on our presentation at the SCAA Event in 2012 in Portland. In that presentation, we
introduced the term “Blue Harvest” which refers to coffee cultivation and processing practices that protect
water resources.
Coffee production and processing are major factors for streamwater quality at origin:
Coffee production. Coffee is grown in high elevation watersheds, often within the headwaters of streams
and rivers. The majority of coffee growers apply fertilizers and agrochemicals that can be detrimental to
water quality if these chemicals return to streams or infiltrate groundwater. In many places of the world,
coffee replaces tropical forests; this conversion can be detrimental to watershed functions, particularly if
it contributes to higher soil erosion. 4 On the other hand, coffee can have a net positive benefit to
watershed functions if it replaces land-use systems with less canopy or groundcover (e.g., annual crops).5
When managed well, coffee agroforestry systems can function similar to natural forests. They can help
conserve biodiversity and generate important ecosystem benefits for downstream communities in coffeegrowing watersheds, including: regulating the water cycle, improving recharge of local water tables,
reducing soil erosion and water sedimentation, and mitigating the impacts of natural disasters.6
Coffee processing. Conventional coffee processing demands huge amounts of water, usually drawn
directly from highland streams. 7 Water is degraded when it used in the fermentation of cherries, where it
becomes highly acidic. In most processing facilities, water is used for de-pulping and the vast majority of
mills use water to channel pulp directly into rivers. The oxygen required for the breakdown of pulp is so
high that rivers with high amounts of pulp can be depleted of oxygen due to decomposition processes.
Low dissolved oxygen (DO) can be lethal to aquatic organisms. However, there are proven technologies
for coffee processing that avoid streamwater contamination.8 Responsible water resource management in
the coffee process can conserve water resources and contribute to improved water quality in coffeegrowing watersheds.9
See the video Downstream for an example where the El Salvador Ministry of Environment threatened to shut
down a coffee mill for downstream contamination.
“Factors driving land use change: Effects on watershed functions in a coffee agroforestry system in Lampung,
Sumatra”. Authors: Bruno Verbist, Andree Eka Dinata Putra, Suseno Budidarsono. 2005.
Hickenbottom, Mila. Field report for CRS and GWI 2012/2013.
The major benefit of improved canopy cover is improved water quality, primarily by reducing erosion. Kosoya, N.,
et al. Payments for environmental services in watersheds: Insights from a comparative study of three cases in
Central America. 2006.
Kebele, et al., “Environmental impact of coffee processing effluent on the ecological integrity of rivers found in
Gomma Woreda of Jimma Zone, Ethiopia”. Pub. Ecohydrology and Hydrobiology, Vol. 10 No. 2-4, 259-270. 2010
Guerrero, Juan. Estudio de Diagnóstico y Diseño de Beneficios Húmedos de Café, IICA Nicaragua
See Von Enden, Jan. Treatment of wastewater from Arabica coffee processing,
Miguel Flores is a civil engineer who has led Catholic Relief Services’ water and rural development
programming in Honduras for the past 25 years. In that time, CRS built nearly 500 community water
systems benefitting more than a quarter million people. In addition to being an expert in water resources,
Miguel produces specialty coffee on a 35 hectare coffee farm in the department of Intibucá.
The role of coffee in the rural economy is massive. With the boom of coffee production in Honduras over
the past eight years, coffee represents 40% of agricultural exports, and 20% of the country’s GNP. More
than 110,000 families are producing coffee, and an estimated 1.2 million people participate in the coffee
The coffee boom is having a direct effect on water resources in Honduras. In the Global Water Initiative,
we realized that good watershed management is equivalent to good coffee management in many areas.
This led us to initiate multilateral cooperation with coffee cooperatives, the Honduras national coffee
institute (IHCAFE), municipal governments, and the national forest conservation institute (ICF). These
stakeholders signed cooperative agreements to renovate coffee farms in ways that support water resource
management plans. IHCAFE and ICF technicians are working with partners in the Global Water Initiative
to provide training to farmer groups. Producer groups and cooperatives have established several large,
commercial-based nurseries with the assistance of IHCAFE and ICF.11
Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Coffee, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s “Bird-Friendly”
program, and others include water resources in their standards, to varying degrees. In addition to these
leading certifications, some coffee roasters have developed their own standards that include requirements
for water resource management. The prime example of company-specific standards is the Starbucks
C.A.F.E. Practices standards.
To better understand the strengths and limitations of current certifications we reviewed the following:
 FairTrade FLO12
 Rainforest Alliance (Sustainable Agriculture Standards)13
 Starbucks C.A.F.E Practices14
 UTZ Coffee15
Also See projects and reports by Aceres consulting for examples of innovative processing technologies:!projects/c1vw1
See the USDA FAS GAIN report on “Honduran 2012/2013 Coffee Exports Continue to Roast”
The video Blue Harvest presented at SCAA 2012 provides details of this work.
For Fair Trade we reviewed Standard for Small Producer Organizations, Version: 01.05.2011_v1.1
For Rainforest Alliance we reviewed SAS Version July 2010. See:
For Starbucks C.A.F.E. Practices we reviewed:
Generic Scorecard January 2013
Verifier and Inspector Operations Manual Version 5.1 (October 2012); Verifier and Inspector Guidance Update
Number 6.0−10/2012 ; and Generic Evaluation Guidelines Version 2.0 (2007)
We also interviewed key actors from across the specialty coffee value chain to get their opinions on
standards, including: farmers, cooperative leaders, buyers, certifiers, and government representatives.
Together, these certifications and standards are the primary way that the specialty coffee industry
influences water-related practices by farmers and millers at origin. There are certainly ample cases to
show how practices have improved to protect water resources. Many of the standards in the tables are
very good, and they have steadily improved over the past five years or more. In particular Starbucks’
C.A.F.E. Practices standards for water resource management have become very robust; the introduction
of three new “water stress” indicators in the 2012 version demonstrates Starbucks’ focus.
However, there are critical gaps in the standards, or in the certification process, so the results have been
mixed. Below we highlight these gaps and offer a few ways in which standards could be strengthened.
1. First, a fundamental problem with all certification processes is that farmers and millers can be
certified while still contaminating water. This is due to several factors:
a. The way the point systems are structured, farmers and millers can neglect the water-related
standards but still earn sufficient points to be certified.
For example, under the
Starbucks C.A.F.E.
Practices point system
for smallholders on
Leadership – Coffee
Growing, only 9 of the
40 potential points are
related to water, and only
5 of those points are
specific to “water body
protection” (see the
circled points below). So,
both the “Preferred” and
the “Strategic” certification categories are possible even when water bodies are not protected.
b. Impractical standards. Some standards are not practical to implement. For example, the
Rainforest SAS Critical Criterion 4.5 requires that coffee wastewater achieve a maximum
Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) of 50 mg/L. This is stricter than the national laws in the
region and not achievable in most cases without installing expensive water treatment equipment.
The risk of overly strict standards is that they can discourage farmers and millers from attempting
simpler, cheaper treatment options that could significantly improve downstream water quality by
reducing BOD levels to 1000 or 500 mg/L, for example.
c. Ambiguous standards. Some standards are too broadly designed, leaving their interpretation open
to a lot of subjectivity on the part of farmers, millers, or certifiers. For example, the Fair Trade
FLO indicator #Dev 3.2.27 states that: “You must handle waste water from central processing
For UTZ Coffee standards we reviewed the Good Inside Code of Conduct For Coffee for individuals and groups
facilities in a manner that does not have a negative impact on water quality”. This can be both
ambiguous and impractical; and it may not be feasible to have absolutely no negative affect. In
fact, FLO’s guidance for this standard qualifies this by suggesting that the mill could monitor in
order to “correct any incidence of contaminants down to adequate levels”, implying, but not
specifying, an allowable level of contamination.
d. Inherent bias to certify. The certification process itself is subject to a positive certification bias.
This issue is well known in the industry, and relevant to the point on water quality. Since
certification inspectors are usually paid by farmers and millers – there is some pressure for
certifiers to certify their clients if they want repeat business. There is a risk that clients will
gravitate overtime to certifiers that are more lenient. There are inherent economic incentives to
certify famers throughout the value chain, all the way to retailers.
2. Not all water sources are created equal – drinking water sources should be specifically
Most standards refer to “water resources” or “water bodies” in general terms. For example, the UTZ
11.1.B states that: “The producer protects and conserves all the water streams and sources (incl.
ground water) on the farm from contamination and pollution.” That’s a great principle and target, but
since it is harder to protect all resources, we believe it would be more effective to target water
sources (surface and groundwater) that are used for drinking water supplies. Protection efforts
should include the recharge areas for these drinking water sources. In the recommendations section of
this paper, we will give specific ideas for indicators related to drinking water sources.
3. “Ecological flows” should be explicitly referenced in the indicators
A problem that we have observed on many coffee farms and milling operations is that they way water
systems are designed, they extract excessive amounts of water from springs and streams because
water that is extracted from streams, but not needed at the mill, overflows at the tank site. It would be
far better to design systems so that unused water remains within the natural channels (streams or
aquifer) in order to maximize “ecological flows”. The ecological flow refers to water that sustains the
flora and fauna within the natural water channel. The Starbucks C.A.F.E. Practices standards define
“water stress” as “the condition where the total water use exceeds the locally available water supply
in the watershed (e.g., streams, rivers, and groundwater).” This definition should include ecological
flow as a required part of the water stress “calculation”.
To better understand the impacts of coffee processing on streamwater in Central America, and to generate
recommendations for standards and monitoring tools, we monitored water quality in streams at sixteen
wet mills in five areas of northern Nicaragua during the 2012/2013 coffee harvesting season. The study is
entitled: “Evaluation of Impacts of Wet Mill Coffee Processing in Nicaragua: Case Study and
Recommendations for Tools and Indicators”, and will be published following the SCAA Event.16
The research evaluated the following parameters: Temperature, Dissolved Oxygen (DO)17, Biological
Oxygen Demand (BOD)18, pH, Turbidity, Conductivity, Nitrates, Pesticides and herbicides, and
Discharge (flows).
Water samples and probe tests were conducted at points immediately above wet-mills, immediately
downstream of mills, and points between 500 meters and two-kilometers downstream of mills. Water
samples were evaluated at three separate times at each location between January and March.
We observed elevated biological oxygen demand, acidification and depletion of dissolved oxygen below
wet mills resulting from wastewater discharges. We found that river water below wet mills was more
acidic at almost all active mills, but still within the pH 6-8 range recommended for safe drinking water.
Dissolved oxygen levels decreased downstream of mills for about half the active sites. Sites that showed
minimal impacts were: not processing, discharging into larger rivers, discharging into treatment lagoons
or pits, and/or had lower harvest volumes. Downstream sampling sites 1-2 km downstream uniformly
showed recovery of pH, DO and BOD levels to those observed upstream of the wet mills.
The worst impacts of the study were observed in the Pueblo Nuevo region. All three sites were
discharging coffee wastewater directly into adjacent rivers. This is a very dry region and the stream flows
were very small. Oxygen levels were observed to drop by half. The bottoms of the stream beds were black
from anaerobic decomposition. In addition to the impact of coffee wastewater was the effect of diverting
most of the river flow to wash the coffee. The remaining water had low oxygen levels, even upstream of
the processing center. At site 230 large volumes of pulp were observed in the stream as well. Red
Tubificid worms of a type seen in raw sewage discharge were observed in the streambed.
Several locations did not appear to show impacts. This may be because less coffee was processed this
year than previous years. The region was heavily impacted by the coffee rust virus. Approximately 30%
of the coffee harvest of Nicaragua was lost. On some farms the loss approached 100%. With less coffee
harvested, less wastewater was produced. The reduced harvest also affected the timing of processing, with
the processing occurring earlier than we expected. For example at sites in San Juan de Rio Coco, we
arrived several weeks after the coffee processing had occurred.
Research was led by Dr. Andrew Stubblefield, Associate Professor of Hydrology at California State University,
Humboldt. Field research was supported by CRS technical staff: Juan Adrian Rivera the CRS coordinator for the
Global Water Initiative, Ariel Espinoza, a water resource specialist, and Alexander Manoogian, a CRS Global
DO is measured as the percent of saturated oxygen content in water
BOD is a measure of the amount of organic substances in the water that can decompose and remove oxygen from
the water, resulting in low dissolved oxygen
Awareness of the impacts of coffee wastewater is spreading. For example, one municipality, Dipilto,
recently passed laws prohibiting direct discharge of wastewater into streams and rivers. Large producers
throughout the region have recently installed treatment systems or are in the process. The Ballestero mill,
for example, had just installed a 100 m2 treatment lagoon. Wastewater was pumped from the large
riverside mill (8000 quintals per year) uphill and away from the river. A large facility owned by
PRODECOOP in San Juan de Rio Coco had just excavated 500 meters of meter-deep canals to hold and
infiltrate wastewater. Our results suggest that the lack of observed impacts at these locations reflects the
success of these treatment systems.
Of the parameters monitored in this study, dissolved oxygen and pH were the best for detecting impacts
of coffee wet mill processing. Other parameters did not appear to change significantly for the volumes of
wastewater and size of receiving streams in this study. BOD levels were generally low (< 20 mg/l) in the
streams. We did not analyze the wastewater. For areas without easy access to laboratories we recommend
analyzing only Dissolved Oxygen as field tests are available.
Several of the wet mill sites in this study that were observed discharging water into receiving streams did
not appear to cause detectable changes in water quality parameters. This suggests that there may be
allowable levels of discharge. Natural water bodies may have acceptable levels of pollutant loading that
do not change the inherent properties of the aquatic ecosystem, or affect the beneficial uses of the water
(such as fishing, drinking water, irrigation). Based on this, it is tempting to conclude that a certification
standard could allow direct discharge of coffee wastewater if a water monitoring program demonstrated
no impacts were taking place.
However, there were two sites where we did not detect impacts, even though it was clear from the
geometry of the washing canals that the mills were directly discharging into local rivers, and local
residents complained of contamination. Therefore, for all mills that can potentially affect a streams or
river used for drinking water or other domestic uses, certification or legal standards should require
wet mills to capture all wastewater and treat it before release into the environment. It would be
easier for inspectors to verify existence of physical infrastructure than conduct or validate water
monitoring programs.
Portable field probes: We highly recommend the use of portable field probes for collecting water quality
information. This is because coffee processing typically takes place in remote mountainous regions, so
transport of water samples to laboratories for analysis is expensive and transport delays can alter water
parameters before analysis. Therefore, probes make sampling more practical and accurate. Once probes
have been purchased, many measurements can be made with minimal costs. All of the probes except for
dissolved oxygen can be purchased for less than $100.
Winkler method for measuring DO: Field dissolved oxygen probes are improving each year; optical
probes are particularly rugged and reliable but can cost $200 - $3000. The membrane type probes are
cheaper but less reliable. Another option is to use simple field testing kits that use the Winkler reaction
method to measure oxygen levels. The kits are inexpensive ($1 per test) fast, reliable and easy to use.19
See USA Environmental Protection Agency guide:
Our primary recommendation is that certifications include standards specific to the protection of water
sources for drinking water supplies. We propose that the specialty coffee industry can promote the
protection of water sources in two ways:
A. Strengthening standards specifically for protecting water sources
B. Increase incentives for producers and processers for protecting water resources
A. Strengthening standards specifically for protecting water sources
Goal: Protect and restore water resources, with a priority on drinking water sources
1. Good watershed management on coffee farms
Results: Increase water recharge and minimize
erosion and non-point source pollution.
2. Good practices at coffee milling sites
Results: Minimize water use and minimize
contamination from coffee wastewater
Coffee can degrade water resources in two major ways:
Non-point source pollution, which includes practices on coffee farms, and
Point-source pollution, which includes wastewater from the coffee mills.
Standards for controlling streamwater pollution are one of two types:
Performance-based Standards: For performance standards, the focus is on measurable results, and
the methods or practices to meet the standards are left to the implementers.
Best Management Practices. Most of the current certifications are based on Best Management
Practices (BMP). BMPs involve standards for crop production or coffee processing technologies. The
focus is on practices, not specifically on results.
Recommendation for monitoring and standards
1. Carry out Water-Source Impact Assessment and planning process
All farmers and millers should carry out a Water Source Impact Assessment (WIA), and then formulate
action plans that respond to this assessment. Below we propose a specific methodology for applying a
WIA, building on recommendations in existing certifications, listed below.
Existing certification standards that refer to assessments and planning:
UTZ 11.A: The certificate holder conducts a risk assessment on environmental impacts.
UTZ 11.A.2: Based on the risk assessment on environmental impacts (11.A.1), the certificate holder makes and
implements an action plan how to address these environmental risks. Implemented actions are documented.
UTZ 9.B.1: The certificate holder makes and implements a water action plan. The objective of this water action
plan is to (re-) use water efficiently and to minimize the amount of water used in the process.
FairTrade Dev 3.2.25: You must keep informed about the situation of the water sources in your area.
Fair Trade Dev 3.2.27: Define a plan to monitor the quality of wastewater discharged from processing facilities.
Such a plan may include… means to correct any incidence of contaminants down to adequate levels.
Rainforest SAS 4.1: The farm must have a water conservation program that ensures the rational use of water
resources… The farm must keep an inventory and indicate on a map the surface and underground water sources
found on the farm.
Starbucks C.A.F.E CG-SR1: Areas of the farm that have been determined to be at risk to soil erosion (due to slope,
soil type, rainfall levels, etc) are effectively protected from erosion by … soil conservation practices.
Starbucks C.A.F.E. CP-WC1.6: …Mills must be able to demonstrate their awareness of the local water supply and
provide evidence of efforts to increase water efficiency through ongoing water management.
Rainforest SAS 4.6: [Operations] that discharge wastewater continuously or periodically into the environment
must establish a water-quality monitoring and analysis program that takes into account potential contaminants
and laws.
WIA at Farm Level:
A farm assessment should include the following information
General Farm and Water Resource Information
1. Location of farm: geo-reference the location using free satellite imagery tools)
2. Size of farm and hectares/manzanas planted with coffee
3. Elevation (or range of elevation)
4. General description of terrain: slopes (steep, undulating, flat)
5. Map of water sources (springs, streams, wells) on the farm, and approximate recharge areas
6. Identify critical areas on the farm (natural forests, highly erosive areas, etc).
7. Is there a drinking water source within or downstream of the farm?
8. Watershed size and location the farm is located in.
9. Approximate annual rainfall.
10. Is there an existing watershed or natural resource management plan for the territory?
11. Are there existing municipal ordinances related to land-use covering the farm?
12. General information on stream(s) affected by the farm, include basic information on flow levels in the wet
and dry season, and the general quality of streamwater (for example: good or bad).
13. List other activities in the area (watershed) that affect the same stream/river. For example, are there other
farms upstream and downstream? Are there nearby homesteads or towns upstream or downstream that
affect the stream/river?
Based on this basic information, certification applicants should determine the potential risks related to
water sources, and propose short-term and long-term mitigation strategies.
Example of mitigation/action plan for a farm:
Is there a risk that practices on this farm can degrade a water source? If yes:
Objectives: Increase water recharge and minimize erosion and non-point source pollution.
Potential Negative Impacts on Water Sources Mitigation Strategy
1. Application of fertilizer or pesticide could
1.1 Plant a 10 meter vegetative buffer around the source.
pollute water source used by downstream 1.2 Apply no chemicals to plants within the recharge area of
water source.
2. Access road may compact recharge area
2.1 Seek assistance from community or municipality to build a
of water source.
foot-bridge over stream upstream of water source.
3. Steep mountainside uphill from water
3.1 Set aside this area as a conservation area and allow natural
source is prone to landslide
regeneration and planting of native trees to stabilize soils.
No active coffee management in this area (but unmanaged
coffee can remain)
WSIA at Mill Level:
A mill assessment should include the following information:
General Mill and Water Resource Information
1. Location of mill: geo-reference the location using free satellite imagery tools
2. Capacity of mill
3. Description of milling equipment/technology
4. General description of terrain: slopes (steep, undulating, flat)
5. Map of water sources (springs, streams, wells) near the mill
6. Identify any critical areas near the mill (natural forests, highly erosive areas, etc).
7. Is there a drinking water source downstream of the farm? How far?
8. General information on stream(s) affected by the mill, include basic information on flow levels in the wet
and dry season, and the general quality of streamwater (for example: good or bad).
9. Watershed size and location the mill is located in.
10. Is there an existing watershed or natural resource management plan for the territory?
11. Are there existing municipal ordinances that would affect the mill? Does the mill have necessary government
12. List other activities in the area (watershed) that affect the same stream/river. For example, are there other
farms upstream and downstream? Are there nearby homesteads or towns upstream or downstream that
affect the stream/river?
Based on this basic information, certification applicants should determine the potential risks related to
water sources, and propose short-term and long-term mitigation strategies. These strategies could be
pulled directly from existing certification standards.
Example of mitigation/action plan for a mill:
Is there a risk of the farm degrading a water source? If yes:
Objectives: Minimize water use and minimize contamination from coffee wastewater
Potential Negative Impacts on Water Sources
Mitigation Strategy
1. Coffee wastewater can pollute water source
1.1 Treat all wastewater using anaerobic ponds and
located 2 kilometers downstream of mill.
infiltration channels
1.2 Install mechanical de-pulper to reduce water use
1.3 Seek financial assistance from water-user
association, government, and coffee buyers to
install water-saving equipment.
1.4 Measure dissolved oxygen levels downstream of
mill twice per week during processing season.
2 Excessive use of water can limit downstream flows
2.1 Install water circulation equipment to reduce
affecting the town’s water source.
water use.
2.2 Install mechanical de-pulper to reduce water use.
2.3 Meter water to monitor water use over time.
3 Edge of mill property on river edge is prone to
3.1 Build gabion retaining wall to reduce risk.
landslide in a big storm
3.2 Plant trees on riparian areas adjacent to mill.
2. Adopt Minimum Standards Specific for Protecting Water Sources
Minimum Non-Point Source Standards (Coffee Farms)
BMP Standards
 All water sources for drinking water supplies are clearly marked.
Establish minimum 10 meter radius vegetative buffer around the water source.
Define the recharge area for the drinking water source using standard hydrologic methods
No harmful pesticides (including organic concoctions that may be harmful for human
consumption) are applied within the recharge area or near the water source.
No farm waste or garbage sites are located within the recharge zone or water source area.
No cultivation takes place in areas highly prone to erosion/landslides upstream of a water source
(to avoid landslides damaging the water source or recharge area).
Performance Standards
 The quality of water for drinking water (springs, streams or groundwater) should continually
improve. Measurements should be taken ideally at peak flow (October/November) and during the
driest month (usually April). The current year should be used as a baseline measure.
 The flow from springs, streams, and groundwater should increase over time. Compare current
year as baseline versus annual samples in the driest month of the year (typically April).
Formal standards could be designed based on the following existing standards
Starbucks C.A.F.E. Practices CG-WR1; CG-WR2; CG-WR3; and CG-SR1:
UTZ 11.B.1 and 11.B.2
Rainforest SAS 2.6; 4.5, and 4.7.
Minimum Point Source Standards (Coffee Mills)
BMP Standards
 If the mill has any potential influence on a water source downstream, the mill owners and
operators should know the locations and uses of the water.
 No mill should be located within one kilometer upstream of a drinking water source.
 The mill must have the national and local legal permits to operate.
 If there is a water resource management plan for the area, the mill owners should be involved
 The mill must monitor water quality immediately upstream and downstream of the mill on a
weekly basis during the coffee processing season and keep records, tracking DO, pH, and
turbidity at a minimum, and records kept for 3 years.
 All waste must be disposed of in a way that does not enter the stream or groundwater upstream of
the water source.
 The mill must have a clear emergency plan in place if an accident causes potential contamination
to the water source, including immediately notifying municipal officials and relevant water
Performance Standards
 A mill that influences a drinking water source must not degrade the water source (e.g. stream)
based on all parameters measured by local law. At a minimum Dissolved Oxygen should not be
below 80%, pH should be between 6 and 9, and zero fecal coliforms.
 There should be no solids of any form entering the stream from the mill operation, including
organic waste, garbage, etc.
Formal standards could be established based on these existing standards:
 Starbucks C.A.F.E. Practices CP-WC1; CP-WC2; CP‐WM1
Rainforest SAS 4.4 and 4.6
UTZ 9.B.1, 9.B.2, and 9.B.3
Fair Trade Dev 3.2.27
Build Local Capacity for Planning through Participatory Mapping
It is critical to emphasize that improving practices to protect water sources is primarily about
strengthening social and policy capacity among stakeholders at origin. Standards are most useful
when they are means for building local capacity.
We have found that mapping exercises are critical for water resource planning and for building local
capacity. Access to satellite imagery and other technology makes mapping much intuitive and very
affordable. In 2009-2010, we worked with the University of California, Davis to develop a set of
interactive mapping tools called AMANO.20 The website for AMANO has brief video clips that
demonstrate the potential of participatory mapping exercises.
B. Increase incentives for producers and processers for protecting water resources
We know that there are proven technologies and practices to improve water quality both at the production
and wet-milling stages. But these good practices are not applied at scale in most coffee growing regions.
The obstacles are primarily economic, political and social, rather than technical. Below are a few
recommendations for increasing incentives at origin.
1. Economic: Provide upfront economic incentives for upgrading mills or farming practices
It can be expensive to upgrade mills or set aside land on coffee farms to as conservation areas or
buffers. While millers and farmers may eventually be rewarded for good practices with premiums
paid on certified products, the challenge is getting the upfront capital to make the investments needed
to get certified. Root Capital is one organization that demonstrates how this can be done sustainably
through financing. 21 Many coffee roasters and buyers also provide direct grants or loans to their
partners (cooperatives for these types of investments. Donors and NGOs also contribute directly to
upgrade farming practices or mills.22
2. Policy: Provide advice to local actors on policies and standards
As governments in Central America strengthen and enforce policies around coffee and water, in some
cases, the laws are written unreasonably without clear understanding of the coffee industry. Coffee
growers and millers want to advocate for regulations that are appropriate and applicable. The
specialty coffee industry, through SCAA, could assist their partners at origin by recommending
policies, regulations and ordinances, drawing from the existing standards, knowledge of the policy
framework across the globe, and additional expert advice.
3. Social: Assist communities at origin to manage their water resources
The best way that the specialty coffee industry could directly support water resource management at
origin is to support the formulation and implementation of water resource management plans. These
plans are normally drafted with local governments, water user associations, and other stakeholders.
The process is usually supported by an NGO with expertise in water resources. We suggest that this
type of investment is far more sustainable than a one-off investment in upgrading a water supply
See case study:
See the video Downstream as an example:
See the video Blue Harvest for an example of this process:
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