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Coffee cultivation in an ethically and socially responsible organic farm in deep provincial Brazil

The Labour of Love: Daterra’s green coffee agriculture in deep provincial Brazil

“Coffee is not static,” Daterra’s international trader Gabriel Moreira writes. “Our mission is to innovate and continuously improve.” Considering Daterra’s high-grade output, their unique processing techniques and evolving product list, one is inclined to agree. Gabriel’s passion is visibly shared by the company as a whole; dedication and creativity across Daterra’s workforce encouraged to bloom with colourful fertility just as their coffee crop does. To hear Gabriel’s descriptions of his trade – from explanations of specific and complex cultivation techniques to Daterra’s sustainability models and carefully balanced symbiosis protection – is to understand his enthusiasm for his company’s work. A very genuine and honest love finds its way into Gabriel’s words, and clearly the same is expressed in Daterra’s coffee.

A statement of intent

The company started, interestingly, in sectors entirely removed from coffee. From entrepreneurship in small businesses including grocery stores and gas stations, eventually to agribusinesses more than three decades ago, Daterra’s interest in coffee was a bold new step for a well-established name in Brazilian commerce. To their advantage, coffee production had been developed and honed elsewhere. Daterra saw these practices, and duly disregarded many of them. The “addictions”, writes Gabriel, of coffee culture had been long ingrained in its practitioners, for better or for worse. By comparison, to approach from a completely fresh angle allowed Daterra to craft their business free from over-observed traditions and bad habits. Immediately, the company engaged scientists, universities, tasters, traders, buyers and producers from across the world to help guide their craft, to create the infrastructure to their working processes and methods. Through listening to their invited guest speakers and to their own surroundings, a discerning voice, well-educated in coffee, began to murmur from deep provincial Brazil.

And province is key. Daterra wears its Rainforest Alliance certification proudly. Even when the company purchased its initial plot of farmland, it “was not green”, Gabriel tells us. Daterra began their own investment in the land by rebuilding its natural flora and fauna, employing the highly reputable agriculture university Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz to trace the plant and animal life naturally native to the region. Together, Daterra and ESALQ created farmland to house both large-scale coffee production and its own crucial organic life, even building ‘wildlife corridors’ to allow animals to roam freely and naturally repopulate the land. The process – now known as the PEA Certification – eventually became a highly involved programme of environmental accountability, created initially within Daterra and now present nationwide across Brazil to mark adequate protection of local wildlife.

Technology and ecology

This is not to say that Daterra has eschewed modern coffee production. Gabriel and his team are fully aware that competitive quality coffees cannot come from hand farming or homemade technology alone. A new balance, a new symbiosis was pioneered across their Cerrado homeland – a dry, wild and astonishingly diverse Savannah-like ecosystem. Where Daterra had restored the symbiosis of natural inhabitants through the PEA programme, their next task was to create a balance of nature and industry. A functioning Fordlandia for the real world. Or, in Gabriel’s words:

“We have used technicality to overcome some natural barriers and improve the quality of our beans, as well as we count on very knowledgeable and passionate professionals to achieve it…Specialty coffee doesn’t combine with stereotypes. It changes and reinvents itself all the time. And that’s how we like to work: challenging ourselves and our lands to produce coffees that go beyond the norm.”

Gabriel also provides a list of agricultural technologies employed by Daterra for our case study. It is quite remarkable. Among the processes are the treatment of water used for wet milling – pulping coffee cherries – so that it can be reused elsewhere on the farm. Gabriel estimates that 60% of the wet milling water is saved and put to work again. Likewise, we also see great attention to detail in irrigation, soil protection, weed management, recycling and so on. And it is all carried out “despite any certifications”, Gabriel writes. “We do what we believe is right because this is the only way we can guarantee we will be able to keep producing good coffee for the next generations.”

A labour of love

Herein lies a further clue into Daterra’s manifesto: social responsibility. Gabriel speaks of the company’s dedication to workers’ rights, fair pay, health insurance, meal guarantees, working conditions and so on with a real zeal. Its importance is clear. Just as treating its immediate environment with care, generosity and intelligence yields a better coffee crop, treating hierarchy with the same yields more attention, more industry. The very first line of Gabriel’s description of Daterra’s vision is “being internationally recognised for producing very high quality Arabica beans, with social and environmental responsibility.” Clearly, Daterra has learned that these individual elements are best treated as pieces of the same puzzle.

The company also leads a charitable foundation for children and teenagers in Cerrado. Through their Educar Foundation, Daterra supports and develops literacy and schooling programmes for local children, offering scholarships, education initiatives, teacher and student workshops and provisions for schools. One such student seizing this opportunity was Gabriel himself. “I am proud to say I was one of those teenagers to be participating myself in that programme over 11 years ago and it made a huge difference in my life,” he says. His story is heartening: initially a pupil of the Educar Foundation’s community project, then a volunteer at the Daterra farm, subsequently an intern for the Foundation and finally accepting a position in the company’s Trade and International Marketing department. One can almost see the broad, rightfully earned smile in Gabriel’s words. “I have always liked coffee, but after I applied and got the job, coffee became a really important part of my life. And as some say, coffee is an one-way ticket – Well, gladly!”

A vision of future coffees

Gabriel’s parting thoughts are of Daterra’s forthcoming coffees and projects. The company already has three flagship coffees, each created in different plots from different crop varietals across their farmland, treated with their own farming technique. “The three farms go from very small unique experimental micro-lots to bigger volumes of consistent coffees that can be replicated year in and year out, by blending coffees from our farms,” he writes. Already available are the superlative Masterpieces, Collection and Classics coffees, each distinct, high quality and fully traceable despite originating from different sized farms. But Daterra continue to evolve. One of their exciting new ideas is to invite celebrated roasters from across the world to manage their own private plot at Daterra farms – to combine their own knowledge and experience with Daterra’s highly equipped farmland and expert supervision. Gabriel also writes of new experimental techniques and trials in production: the effects of fungus present in the plantations, new fermenting processes, screening cherry size and so on.

That discerning voice from Brazil has already established itself as a genuine authority on coffee, with fantastic cups as proof. But having heard Gabriel’s excitement and enthusiasm for the world of Daterra, their vision and their plans, we hope the rest of the world will begin to listen just as closely as we do.