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Meet Joop, Fairtrade licensee, Peruvian climate-neutral coffee producer

Portrait of Joop Verbeek
Joop Verbeek, co-founder IncaFé Organic Coffee

 

Joop Verbeek is a Fairtrade licensee who operates an organic coffee business, IncaFé Organic Coffee, from the New Zealand’s Taranaki region. Starting with a childhood in the Netherlands, Joop’s story is a truly international one: his engineering job took him around the world including Peru where he met his Peruvian spouse and now their coffee business takes him back there often, as well as Sumatra.

Joop is one of the many incredible business leaders that Fairtrade works with around the world – leaders who are investing in fair trade-certified supply chains that support the people who grow, sell and consume their products.

“Foremost,” says Joop, “we are an organics company. That’s what we wanted to be. And Fairtrade became a logical outcome of that.”

Joop’s first exposure to the impacts that coffee was having on communities was in 1996, when he travelled to Peru as an engineer. He visited the coffee plantation where one of Carmen’s family members grew up.

“I had a dream of having some sort of horticulture business one day, using organic production. I saw the coffee growing in Peru and I thought of the destruction of rainforests I’d seen previously in Borneo and in the Amazon for timber and cattle grazing. I thought coffee was an ideal product to work with. The more valuable and flavoursome heirloom species grow well organically.”

Joop’s fate was sealed and he has worked with organics and coffee ever since.

 

Delicious coffee, grown fair
Red berries on coffee plant
Geisha specialty coffee organically grown in Chanchamayo, Peru

 

By growing organic coffee, Joop is offering coffee drinkers something different, something fair. Only 3% of the world’s total coffee production is organic, with the remainder being grown conventionally. Many of the conventional methods use synthetic fertilizers as well as pesticides and herbicides.

Conventional plantations yield more coffee per hectare for two main reasons: firstly, because they are planted without shade trees that take up space and secondly because fertilisers and chemicals are used to trigger stronger growth of the coffee trees. These chemicals damage the tropical soils however; and much of the soil in these plantations face serious degradation. When it rains there is no root system or diverse vegetation to hold the rain in the soil. The land soon becomes degraded and unable to support the local people.

This model fits corporate agriculture but Joop argues that it’s the planet, the product and people who pay for that increased yield. We, at Fairtrade, agree.

“The yield per hectare for a small organic grower is higher than in the plantations,” Joop argues. “It’s just that the yield is not all coffee – it includes food, building materials and other cash crops that small growers also have on the land.”

“Most of our coffee beans come from Coopchebi Cooperative in Peru. At Coopchebi, coffee beans are grown in forested ecosystems where native trees, canopy shade and an abundance of insect and bird life all contribute to healthy plants in fertile soil, producing full-flavoured coffee beans,” says Joop.

Misty coffee plantation
Organic coffee plantation in Chanchamayo, Peru 1700 meters above sea level.

 

IncaFé is also one of only a small percentage of coffee companies that provides a fully traceable and direct supply chain straight back to the growers “with a bush-to-cup quality and integrity assurance”.

IncaFé has also been carbon-zero since 2008 (a year after they began production) and in 2016 they became carbon-positive, something which was recognised recently when IncaFé won the Business Award for Environmental Excellence. Joop feels that their commitment to the surrounding environment of the people who live in the coffee-growing regions but also the people who live in New Zealand is behind this award.

“We have planted the equivalent of about three-and-a-half hectares of native forest, around 15,000 trees, in the various places we source our coffee and in New Zealand since we began. We also produce compostable packaging. But really, these things are small fry when compared with what we achieve using organic farming practices.”

“The organic practices on their own are a major contributor to environmental change.”

 

Joop’s vision: “We did win the battle”

Climate change is on Joop’s mind every time he makes a decision in the IncaFé business.

“Global warming is one of the biggest challenges of our time. I find it very scary. Every day when we wake up we can either succumb to that fear and just carry on with life, hoping for the best – or we can try to make a difference.”

“I’m going to have to look my kids in their eyes and I want to say ‘I tried’ – or we might look back, and say ‘we did win the battle’.”

 When Joop found his calling producing coffee as IncaFé Organic Coffee, he found the perfect opportunity to make that difference.

“We had well-paying jobs and I wanted to make a difference, a positive difference. We believe you need to put your money where your mouth is.”

And that started with fair pay for growers, something that Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand knows is a powerful move towards change.  Fairtrade certification gives farmers and workers a better income and the power to make their own choices.

“We were already paying our growers more than Fairtrade before we became certified – that was important to us right from the start. That’s what’s needed to get quality coffee: You have to pay growers properly so that they can work in a way that’s good for the land”

While sustainable coffee that is good for the earth and its people is an ideal that many of us aspire to, it’s the growers at the very beginning of the coffee production journey that need support to make that a reality. Joop sees that first-hand whenever he visits coffee growers, many of whom are doing it tough.

“The big exporters and traders in Peru, for instance, are the ones making the profits. There’s not that much interest in advocating for the growers or emancipating them. They want to pay the least possible to the growers.”

“The growers are desperate for adequate income to invest and improve their efficiency. They’re in a vicious cycle of always just getting by. By the time harvesting comes they are out-of-pocket and they sell at any price.”

That’s where relationships between growers and coffee companies like IncaFé Organic Coffee are so important. Joop works with grower cooperatives that give more power to the growers, supporting them to improve practices that both increase their income despite stagnant coffee prices, and their local environment which they need to rely on for generations to come.

“There’s very little spare to innovate in the plantations and improve production methods. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Even though there’s global warming and the farmers are aware of the importance of things like keeping the trees in their plantations, a lot of them are cutting down trees to make money in the short-term.”

 

Kooperasi Permata Gayo
Children in veggie patch
Children learning about organic agriculture at school in Villa Rica, Peru

 

We’d like to tell you about a world you might quite like the sound of.

Let’s take you to Central Aceh, Indonesia, where Joop Verbeek works with local producers to grow and sell Fairtrade coffee that benefits not just those who drink it, like you, but those who grow it.

This world might sound far away, but it’s closer than you think. When you purchase your morning latte, or your supermarket beans, you’re reaching out to that world – and Joop is reaching right back.

Permata Gayo Cooperative was founded in 2006 in central Aceh, Indonesia, where mountains look out over Lake TaLaut Tawar. Many of the local people were returning to their land after years of civil conflict and the devastating tsunami that many of us watched from afar in horror. The farmers quickly worked towards Organic and Fairtrade certification, achieving organic certification in 2007 and Fairtrade certification in 2009. Coffee beans from the region include Fiesta described as having “cinnamon berry notes” and Java, a “dark chocolate molasses” flavour … mmm!

Thanks to thoughtful coffee drinkers around the world, like you, the delicious beans grown at the Permata Gayo Cooperative support more than 3000 members from 44 villages. Through their membership of the Cooperative, farmers are able to enjoy more of the final price of coffee than if they worked alone.

 

Joop’s message for you
Hand in green coffee beans
Organic green coffee in the natural process to your cup

 

Just like you, Joop loves coffee – he loves the aroma, the way it brings people together. But Joop has a very clear message for you.

“Hopefully people make the conscious choice, even though it might cost bit more, to drink a little bit less coffee, but the right coffee. That’s our motto: consume less but better. People choosing Fairtrade support small-scale farmers are making a major impact. They look after the land.”

 

Find out more and buy IncaFé Organic Coffee.