Sustainability and Coffee in Costa Rica: Part One

We chat with Maria Paz Lobo, manager of sustainability and traceability projects at the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica, to learn about sustainability-focused initiatives in the country.


Photos courtesy of Sunghee Tark unless otherwise noted

In recent years, conversations around sustainability have become more frequent than ever in the global coffee industry. Climate change and the price crisis have continued to expose the industry to mounting challenges, and many actors across the coffee value chain have come together to ideate and act in pursuit of a more sustainable coffee industry for all.

Amongst the global actors, Costa Rica as a producing country is an important participant to observe for its longtime pursuit of sustainability. Costa Rica received the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth Award in 2019 for its pioneering efforts to decarbonize its economy by 2050, and its effort is visible across numerous industries including coffee. In the coffee industry of Costa Rica, the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica (ICAFE) has led numerous projects in partnership with other NGOs and/or foreign governmental entities to work toward achieving a sustainable coffee industry.

ICAFE’s sustainability initiatives aim to foster the long-time success of coffee in Costa Rica.

“Sustainability is an act of balancing (resources, needs, etc.) to achieve a well-being for everything and everyone that is involved in coffee. It is sometimes portrayed as an easy formula but it is far from it, as it depends on a series of economic, political, social, environmental, and individual factors that are constantly evolving and are very specific to context,” says Maria Paz Lobo, the manager of sustainability and traceability projects at ICAFE.

Maria Paz adds that since the founding of ICAFE in 1961, the organization has focused on creating a sustainable coffee industry in Costa Rica through initiatives like the 2762 Law, which regulates fair relations between the actors along the Costa Rican coffee sector by capping profit margins for different actors across the supply chain. 

Here we will explore projects promoting sustainability in the coffee industry—with varying focus—that are currently being carried out in Costa Rica. 

The CR-CAFÉ app. Photo by SINTERCAFE.


CR-CAFÉ is a free mobile app created by ICAFE to expand their scope of support throughout the coffee sector. The app primarily serves coffee farmers, with easy-to-use tools for harvest estimation, disease monitoring, farm mapping, a product dosage calculator, and other tools to support them in effective decision-making in coffee production and business, among other areas.

Maria Paz explains the motif behind the app development: “Climate change has really changed the way farms have to be managed. There is so much uncertainty, that what worked a year ago might not work this year. As a result, being able to have easy and precise support on your phone—to aid with accessibility—helps support that and ensures sustainability.”   Moreover, through the use of the app, data collection has been easier. 

Maria Paz adds, “We believe that data and information should reach those that can make best use of it, and at ICAFE we’ve been managing data for more than 50 years. … Moreover, Costa Rica has the advantage that most of our coffee farmers have smartphones, and it is becoming more common to have internet access, so we’ve had a lot of success stories with the app in the last months.”

We will continue this story tomorrow.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sunghee.jpg

Sunghee Tark is the co-founder of Bean Voyage, a feminist organization that collaborates with smallholder womxn coffee producers to build an equitable coffee value chain. She is also a freelance coffee writer, Specialty Coffee Association LEAD Scholar, and Re:co Fellow.

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