‘They have conceived the idea of saving an area of the South American rainforest the size of the Yorkshire Dales… The activities of illegal loggers and others seeking to plunder the forest’s resources have undermined traditional ways of living. To get a grip on this distant situation… They sent one of their own, a young woman called Cristina Talens, to investigate. The intrepid Cristina, 36, made her way into the remote heart of Peru where she linked up with the Ashaninkas, a 10,000-strong community who live on the Ene and Tambo rivers, in the Junin region.’ Yorkshire Post, December 2009
Cristina Talens is the Founder and Director of Source Climate Change coffee and has over 15 years experience in ethical trading, sustainability and rainforest protection, having worked as Ethical Trading Manager for a leading Roast & Ground coffee company and alongside a network of conservation organisations developing the United Bank of Carbon. She started her working life as a human rights campaigner at Antislavery International, then moved to France and then Italy where she worked as a UN researcher.
‘Although I’d studied international business, I decided to work on labour and human rights issues, because I felt that business was missing the human angle. I built a 10-year career in the NGO sector, including consulting for the UN. But I kept business in mind, waiting for the day when business would wake up on social and environmental issues. When I started out, there was the common misconception that profit and ethical values did not mix.’
In the last 10 years, she has worked alongside thousands of small farmers, indigenous people and plantation workers in coffee, tea and cocoa in over 14 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, conducting social audits of suppliers and growers. ‘This involves looking into working and living conditions in the fields and ensuring that the prices we pay benefit everyone in the supply chain. Cristina says, ‘It’s not all altruistic: it means we get the best coffee and we can give that traceability to our customers’.
It was during one such trip that and her experience with the 10,000 strong Ashaninka Indigenous Community within the Amazon forest of Peru that drove home the real importance of forests in ecological hotspots, ‘The journey was a real eye opener. It was the first time I was able to see for myself how the rainforest actually works. I saw the mist gathering over the trees – the trees actually generating the clouds that would then produce rain. There are huge population pressures in these areas, people are poor, they need firewood for cooking and energy, and they need the land to grow food.’ Although, cutting down trees in these areas is illegal, some 25-30 million hectares of the world’s forests are lost each year to illegal logging and clearing for agricultural land.
Cristina says, ‘These forests act as giant carbon banks, when the trees are cut down, they release carbon into the air, thereby contributing to the global problem that is climate change. It is estimated that 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the continued destruction of the world’s forests.’
It was then that she hit upon the idea of creating a gourmet coffee that would incentivize small farmers to protect primary forests. Source is today the only conservation-led coffee company which is founded to protect the world’s forests, helping customers to make direct payments for ecosystem services for every bag or tin that is sold through reforestation carbon credits.
Her products are supported by the Plan Vivo Foundation, an independent standard, specifically designed to incentivise smallholders and forest-user groups to provide ecosystem services.
‘My ambition is to establish Source coffee brand as producing some of the best single origin coffees in the world and at the same time as leading the sustainability agenda. Source is a coffee that appeals to organic gourmet outlets and specialised fine food stores, especially those who are led by local sourcing and want to bring the provenance story of their products to life. Source coffees all carry a QR code that allows customers to see the provenance story of the coffee, and links a payment for ecosystem services into the tree planting being conducted by the smallholder community. Customers can see the story of the project, the product and the biodiversity benefits that are being delivered. It’s quite neat and allows everyone to do their bit for the protection of the world’s forests whilst drinking a fantastic tasting cup of coffee.’
Source Climate Change Coffee was served initially at the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi in December 2011, and Source was one of 50 organisations to be officially greeted by Bill Clinton at the Innovation Forum. Source Climate Change coffee was served at Rio +20, the world’s leading climate change forum, as a practical example of how business can work through the supply chain to address climate change. Part of the profits will go towards supporting the development of radio training programmes for small farmers in Africa on their crops and markets, sustainable land management and climate change.