No 30

Manos al Agua Works on a Sustainable Coffee Farming Focused on Water Care

April, 2016


Manos al Agua Works on a Sustainable Coffee Farming Focused on Water Care

With an investment of 25 million euros over five years, this innovative initiative will contribute not only to sustainability and resilience of the Colombian coffee farming to climate variability, but to integrated management of water resources in 25 river basins of the country.

For years, Colombian coffee growers have sought an increasingly environmentally sustainable coffee farming, but the “Manos al Agua” Program promises to be a turning point in the coffee sector and the Colombian countryside by being focused, with a territorial river basin approach, on integrated water resources management.

Implemented by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), the Manos al Agua Program is the result of a public-private partnership that also includes the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation (APC Colombia), the multinational companies Nescafé, Nestlé and Nespresso, the University of Wageningen UR and the National Coffee Research Center (Cenicafé).

Situations like the current El Niño event, which has had a strong impact on coffee production, confirm the urgency to increase efforts to face growing challenges of climate variability.

“Making coffee farming a climatically adaptable and sustainable activity is one of the biggest challenges of the Colombian coffee sector. Both by excess and lack of water, water imbalance reduces agricultural productivity, with annual losses of up to 40% of crops, affecting farmers’ income and livelihood,” the FNC CEO, Roberto Vélez, said.

By encouraging an intelligent water management model for the Colombian coffee sector, Manos al Agua will contribute to increase its resilience and adaptability to water and climatic phenomena.
Aligned with international standards, Manos al Agua is the largest initiative worldwide in a coffee-producing country focused on care of water resources.

Jean-Marc Duvoisin, CEO of Nestlé Nespresso, highlights that a project such as Manos al Agua is indispensable for sustainability of the global industry.

“Water management is critical for any agricultural activity, and even more for coffee farming, because the impact of climate change and water on production is very strong and is going to be stronger. Coffee farming has to adapt in a proactive way. Otherwise, we all are going to have quality and volume problems, and consumers are going to be impacted by lack of coffee,” Duvoisin said.

The Program works at different levels. At community level, for example, more coffee farmers will have access to solutions such as post-harvesting plants, which optimize costs and improve water use. At territory level, erosion risks will be mitigated, and at farm level, more producers will treat their wastewaters.

The Manos al Agua Program seeks joint and active participation of communities, companies, universities and local and international authorities. With a flexible scheme for incorporation of new stakeholders, anyone interested is invited to join this initiative.

“With over 11,000 coffee-growing families in 25 river basins of Antioquia, Caldas, Cauca, Nariño and Valle del Cauca, we are promoting the transfer of appropriate technologies for adequate water use and pollution management on coffee farms; at the same time, bioengineering and reforestation techniques are applied to stabilize the river basin ecosystems,” Marcelo Burity, Head of Green Coffee Development at Nestlé, explained.

Other strengths of the Program
With a “From Aid to Trade” approach, Manos al Agua is also the largest project by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a unique example of a high-impact sound initiative, in which work between the public and private sectors yields tangible results, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency ( highlights.

The Program has been designed to impact regions instead of seeking isolated solutions.

Besides providing tools for a better decision-making in the coffee sector and rural development, it will strengthen regional and national water policies, said Wouter Wolters, of the University of Wageningen.

“This public-private partnership is a strong and resolute step by the coffee sector towards a sustainable agriculture model and a thriving and peaceful rural sector, strengthening the natural capital of coffee farming. For this reason, we thank our public and private partners for their investment in the future of Colombian coffee farming,” the FNC CEO added.

Projects such as Manos al Agua reinforce the commitment of Café de Colombia and its partners not only to sustainability of the coffee sector and producers, but of the entire planet, something that coffee consumers demand and value more and more.

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