As the largest Rainforest Certified Coffee Farm in Costa Rica, it is a pioneer in sustainable practices applied on a large agricultural scale. In the past decades the farm has planted more than 50,000 shade trees, creating natural buffers around streams and water springs. It has worked to preserve the river valleys as forest, planting along the contours of the hills.
The resurgent shade trees also transform what would be a monoculture environment into a holistic natural landscape. This allows the farms rich biome to continue regular life patterns with minimal human interruption. As noted in a New York Times article, Aquiares recently played host to a group of naturalists. In their report, they noted that the extensive variety of shade trees and the buffer zones around streams significantly increase overall biodiversity. Within the farm are found ocelots, armadillos, squirrels, coyotes, sloths, dozens of bird species, and countless other fauna.
Aquiares is model farm of Rainforest Alliance Certification. This eco-label guarantees that Aquiares meets a series of rigorous social and environmental standards that are verified annually by experienced inspectors. Aquiares obtained its first certification in 2003, and has since then received yearly scores of over 950 points out of 1,000.
In 2012, Aquiares became the first farm in Costa Rica to fulfill the requirements of the Rainforest Alliance Climate Module. The Module requires adherence to careful standards of greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, which are carefully tracked each season. This certification demonstrates that the farm’s low emissions do not meaningfully contribute to climate change.
The ecological success of Aquiares has made it not only a model for the Rainforest Alliance, but an industry leader in sustainability. Representatives from Starbucks, Kraft, and even the U.S. Congress have visited the farm to see coffee cultivation coexisting with conservation.
Aquiares was recently honored to be included in the Costa Rican Coffee NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action). The initiative is an international collaboration that provides technical assistance to coffee mills interested in battling climate change.
The Aquiares team has generated a greenhouse gas emissions inventory. This reflects the use of petroleum products, biomass combustion, fertilizer and other emissions resulting from the farm’s operation.
In a different project, a Forestry Consulting firm has helped Aquiares measure the absorption of greenhouse gases by the farm’s flora. To do this, 50 individual growing plots have been established tree diameter and new annual growth is measured. The Aquiares End Balance (emitting or sequestering) will be verified by a certified agent under the IPCC 14065 norm. With this knowledge, Aquiares will be able to accurately target carbon reductions in farm operation and will hopefully offer other companies carbon bonds to aid in their own internal carbon neutrality commitment.
Aquiares has been home to research studies for decades, starting with early sociological studies in the 1950’s. More recently, Aquiares has been the site for several ongoing environmental research projects.
In 2007, the farm was among the very first to try to calculate its carbon balance. Today, Aquiares is the main test plot for an ongoing project between the CIRAD Institute from France and CATIE University from Costa Rica. The “Carbon-Flux project” measures greenhouse gas exchange between the farm plot and the atmosphere over long-time horizons. This research station is the only one of its kind in the world, capable of accurately measuring the emission-sequestration balance of a hectare of shaded coffee.
With this tool, the researchers are trying to develop a model that can be used by coffee farms around the world to estimate their own carbon sequestration potential. This project is part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change research efforts.
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In 2013, Aquiares begin a partnership program with Cornell University. The goal is to provide an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to gain some practice field experience on the farm. In this short time, the interns have already helped shape the farm’s agricultural strategy and community relations.
In a recent project, a Cornell intern studied the community and noticed increasing levels of type 2 diabetes in the community. Following that research, it was concluded that diet remained an issue for the community and another intern planned and developed a community organic vegetable garden. The farm donated land for the garden and now a group of local women run the garden as a small business.
The relationship with Cornell University has proven to be a win-win. Students are able to immerse themselves in the world of coffee production, and the farm is able to absorb modern knowledge from bright, young students.