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Compost Solutions for Coffee in the Peruvian Amazon

This article in brief: 

  • Coffee farmers in the San Martin region of Peru struggled with increasing production yields due to poor soil management and outdated agricultural practices. 
  • To address these challenges, the APROECO coffee cooperative worked with an American volunteer through the Farmer-to-Farmer program, implemented by the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International, to carry out composting training with growers in the area to improve their soil.
  • Through this training, the Farmer-to-Farmer program helped the cooperative’s coffee farmers develop a sustainable compost system and become more competitive and resilient in the face of COVID-19.   

Feed the Future’s work to end hunger engages a broad set of stakeholders, including everyday Americans who volunteer their time and expertise through programs like Farmer-to-Farmer. One such volunteer, Bill Zimmerman, teamed up with a cooperative in Peru to help its members develop a composting system to improve soil management and coffee production in the San Martin region. 

Cooperatives play a vital role in the coffee production ecosystem in Peru, supporting growers with access to resources, marketing and business opportunities and training in best practices to improve yields – and livelihoods. For example, the APROECO coffee cooperative in Moyobamba, the capital of the San Martin region, promotes sustainable coffee plantation management processes such as good soil management. It also helps members obtain certifications, including Fair Trade, Organics, UTZ, Sustainable Harvest, Rainforest Alliance and Café Practices.  

The training conducted by Zimmerman is one example of the valuable services cooperatives offer to help growers increase the quality and quantity of coffee produced, as well as expand into international markets, all of which helps them boost their incomes.  

Bill Zimmerman provides aid to the third-largest coffee-producing area in Peru to improve soil management.Photo by NCBA CLUSA 

Improving Coffee Yields with Composting 

Coffee production is the main livelihood for many communities in the San Martin region, the third-largest coffee-producing area in Peru. Although the geography and climate conditions in the region are ideal for cultivating coffee, many growers are not achieving peak production due to poor soil management and outdated farming techniques. To produce greater yields and higher quality coffee products that would allow farmers to better compete in the international market, it is important for farmers to control several factors, including the nutrient content, temperature, and moisture of the soil. 

That is where Zimmerman’s expertise came into play. Farmer-to-Farmer initiated a volunteer project, implemented by the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA), to leverage local resources to increase the quality and yield of compost production. High-quality compost in large enough volumes provides a greater impact on soil conditioning and increases the nutrient uptake capacity of the soil, which then promotes higher crop yields.   

In early 2020 prior to COVID-19 lockdowns, Zimmerman trained approximately 20 APROECO field staff and cooperative members on three model farms across the communities of PotrerilloCarrizales and Palmeras 

“When training the young field staff of APROECO, I was impressed by their attentiveness, quick grasp of new information, and mathematical fluency,” Zimmerman said. “Teamwork and mutual respect were always apparent.”  

After the first day of training, participants were able to apply some of these training techniques to perform important calculations for soil quality with ease and, after a few sessions, participants were able to test the pH of the soil and revise the compost recipe accordingly. Training participants also learned which materials in coffee fields they could use to create more compost, such as coffee cherries (the casing around the coffee bean). 


A group of volunteers dedicate their time to improve soil management & coffee management in Peru. Photo by NCBA CLUSA  

With a background in microbiology and science education, Zimmerman has lent his agricultural expertise overseas through the Farmer-to-Farmer program since 2014.   

“As a retiree, Farmer-to-Farmer is the key for me to continue professional service in developing nations,” Zimmerman said. “The complexity of making superior organic compost from fruit pulp requires that the technical process have closer monitoring, more documentation, and testing of more environmental factors.” 

Across Peru, the Farmer-to-Farmer program supports cooperatives and associations, such as APROECO, with the technical information and training they need to become more competitive and adopt environmentally sustainable practices, such as composting, in order to become more resilient and successful.


Staying Resilient in the Face of COVID-19 

Today, the APROECO cooperative, like many businesses around the world, is dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of quarantines and movement restrictions, access to transportation services is limited, which has in turn reduced job opportunities and restricted commercial activities.  

As a result, coffee growers will face uncertainty in yields, quality and pricing in the near-term. In addition, banks and financial institutions have suspended the provision of loans and credit.   

While the APROECO cooperative has limited cash flow, it is helping its members in their recovery by providing them with groceries and personal protective equipment needed to stay safe and healthy. APROECO technicians are providing members with virtual guidance and checking in on the most vulnerable to make sure they have access to medical care, if needed. APROECO is also working on storing the coffee so it can help growers access the best pricing based on market demand.   

Through this partnership between an American volunteer and a local cooperative, coffee farmers in Peru are better able to remain resilient during this difficult time. In the future, after the COVID-19 pandemic, APROECO field staff will replicate the composting trainings learned from Bill to train additional cooperative members.


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