After nearly three years of planning, the Virginia-based Earth Sangha has launched a new line of shade-grown coffee, called “Rising Forests Coffee,” from the Dominican Republic, on the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola. The coffee comes from the Dominican province of Dajabón, which lies along the border with Haiti. According to Chris Bright, the Sangha’s President, the coffee project is part of the Earth Sangha’s Tree Bank / Hispaniola program, which is devoted to improving the incomes of small-holder farmers along the border, and restoring native forest on portions of their lands. “We want to put more money in our farmers’ pockets,” said Bright. “We also want to give them a stronger economic rationale for conserving and restoring forest. Coffee can help do both of those things.”
The Earth Sangha is a non-profit charity committed to a Buddhist ethic of caring for the environment and helping people. Founded in 1997, the organization has built a large native-plant nursery in the Washington, D.C. area, where more than 200 species of native plants are grown for ecological restoration projects. All of the nursery’s stock is “local ecotype”—grown from locally-collected, wild seed.
The Earth Sangha founded the Tree Bank in 2006. The project is a partnership with a local agroforestry association, and includes a community tree nursery, a farm micro-credit program, and the beginnings of a conservation easement system. “We offer our farmers very low-cost credit,” explained Bright. “In exchange, they have to set up forest easements on their lands. The credit is tied to the forest, and farmers can get more credit if they restore forest. It’s another way of making the forest valuable.” About 25 farms are currently participating but Bright expects membership to grow.
The coffee program has a similar goal. The coffee is shade-grown, so it’s another way of making native forest canopy pay for itself. The program buys only top-quality “Gold Selection” beans, and it guarantees farmers a price that is at least 10 percent higher than whatever the current Gold Selection price is. All profits are returned to the region, to support the Tree Bank program. According to Bright, “there are two keys to this system. One is the focus on Gold Selection, which allows us to create a specialty brand that will bring in more money. The other is the direct connection to the farmers. That’s very efficient. There are fewer people to pay, so we can pay our farmers more.”
By Isaac Hopkins