Grupo Dpaschoal deals mostly in the automotive industry, but in 1980 it branched out into agriculture when Daterra was born, with the express goal of offering efficient production while preserving the environment. It was a time when concepts like environmental sustainability and emissions mitigation were virtually ignored in the business world, and even in the media. “In the beginning, we had cattle, eucalyptus and other products. We only began producing coffee in 1994, when we made the modest purchase of a farm in the Franca region,” recalls Isabela Pascoal Becker, who today is in charge of governance and sustainability at the company.
The idea, stresses Becker, was to produce coffee without harming nature. It was a long road before reaching zero carbon coffee, but today Daterra has actually pushed the limits further, mitigating all of its emissions and still accumulating carbon credits. More recently, the company contracted the services of DeltaCO2 Sustentabilidade Ambiental; with its team made up of academics and researchers from the ESALQ (the Luiz de Queiroz School of Agriculture) in Piracicaba, to carry out a thorough study on the carbon footprint of the production, processing, and sale of its coffee.
The study concluded that the company more than compensates for its emissions; thanks to the preservation or restoration of areas of native forest, the coffea plants and the harvested coffee itself. The entire process was accounted for, from farming all the way to the warehouses of importers in Japan—Daterra’s biggest client. The calculations also factored in emissions produced by the composting of waste from production, the application of chemical fertilizers, the activities of machinery and trucks on the farm, the transport of coffee to the port, loading and export by ship. “The final score is a green credit of 7,280 tons of CO2 equivalent, or 90 kilos of positive credit per 60-kilo bag,” sums up Becker.
Back in the 1980s, Brazil’s image as a coffee producer wasn’t very good on the international market because some exporters hadn’t followed through on their promises. “We wanted Brazil to be seen in a different way, showing that we could deliver large volumes of quality coffee,” says Becker.
To meet its goal, Daterra decided to focus on the special, high-quality coffee market, using only selected arabica beans and taking advantage of its initial experience in Franca. The company sought out specialists from ESALQ and contacted illycaffè, the giant of the Italian coffee sector.
“We had to learn how to produce quality coffee,” tells Becker. On a visit to Daterra at the time, Ernesto Lilly, son of the brand’s Hungarian founder, Francesco Illy, said he believed that the future of the coffee industry in Brazil would be in the Cerrado region of Minas Gerais State—a region with altitudes between 1,200 and 1,300 meters above sea level, cooler weather at night, dry days and flat terrain that would help favor harvesting machinery. Leaving Franca in 1994 in search of more propitious land, the company set up its new 6,800-hectare farm in Patrocínio, located in the “Triângulo” region of Minas Gerais State.
But the first ten years were dedicated to the restoration of the land in a project that Becker calls, “reconstruction of the Cerrado’s natural state”. All the flora needed to be restored, springs and riverheads repaired, and fauna had to be reintroduced, once again in a collaboration with ESALQ for the preservation of vegetation and water resources, and with the Agronomy Institute (IAC), which Becker says helped to select the most recommended varieties of coffea plants.
“In truth, both institutions are our partners and still help us today,” she adds. In 1999, Daterra was able to certify its environmental management system based on ISO 14001, its first certification. And others were yet to come.
But the project only began to turn into a business, explains Becker, around 2001 or 2002 when exports gained strength and the company became a supplier for illycaffè itself.
“We began to gain confidence in our capacity to produce quality coffee and, most importantly, with consistency, which means not only maintaining quality, but preserving the coffee’s attributes over time, thereby gaining the customer’s trust.”
Today, nearly two thirds of the farm’s total area (about 4,200 hectares) are reserved for the preservation of restored forests, vegetation that was present when Daterra arrived and for eucalyptus farming; to produce the wood that powers the furnaces used in the final coffee drying process. The plantation, with a total of 15 million coffea plants, occupies the remaining 2,600 hectares and produces on average about 80,000 bags of coffee, depending on the harvest. Nearly all—99%—is exported, mostly to Japan.
The partnership with ESALQ led to an environmental compliance seal in 2001, developed exclusively for the farm as the result of the work carried out to preserve its flora, fauna and water. Based on the experience already accumulated up until that time, the next step was the obtention of certification in 2003 from the Rainforest Alliance; an international non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of tropical forests around the world.
Daterra became Brazil’s first coffee farm to gain the certification; based on acknowledgment of the company’s good production practices, environmental protection initiatives, sustainable production management, its correct use of chemical products and fair relationships with employees and the community. Later, Rainforest Alliance broadened the scope of its certificate; including the Climate Friendly seal in its portfolio, which Becker and her team re-named “Climate Friendly Farm” for Daterra employees, to give them a clearer idea of the new certificate, awarded in 2011.
Aside from these certifications, Daterra boasts recognition from Utz Kapeh (more recently renamed Utz Certified); an initiative with origins in Guatemala and which today is headquartered in Holland. Its objective is to assure that coffee was produced according to high quality standards, with respect for the environment and worker safety. The company also holds a Biodynamic Institute (IBD) label, because a small part of its production is organic; using fertilizer made of composted residue from coffee production.
Becker explains that Daterra invested some US$ 20 million over two decades and sets aside approximately US$ 1 million every year exclusively for research and development. “I think that 50% of our business is research,” she comments.
By Lauro Veiga Filho, @lauroveigafilho