Geraldo da Silva
Supporting local farmers to develop new markets
Geraldo da Silva's life changed when he discovered organic produce. Not eating it, but producing it.
The coffee farmer from Petunia in the Minas Gerais area of Brazil was struggling to get by on what he made from conventional coffee. In 2000, he got between 80 and 90 reais a sack. Today, after switching 90% of his production to organic coffee, he is getting around four times that.
That is par for the course around here. Organic coffee, although it produces around 20% fewer beans per hectare than conventional or Fair Trade coffee – according to da Silva's estimates – fetches a much higher price.
"The cost of producing organic is less and we produce less, but the higher price makes up for it," da Silva said.
Da Silva talks about organic coffee like a convert. He is obviously committed to protecting the environment in an area where he has lived all his life and that he loves for its spectacular natural beauty.
Many small rivers are born in these rolling hills and in a desire to protect them, he has eliminated fertilizers and pesticides. In their place, he throws bean casings back on the ground to provide the ground with nutrients, uses cow dung as natural fertilizer and plants special grasses that put nitrogen into the soil.
"We've lots of water here and the only way we can ensure it stays clean is by getting rid of the chemicals," he said earnestly.
It takes three years before growers can sell their produce as organic. Farmers must give their land that time to rid itself of any lingering man-made toxins.
Da Silva first turned organic in 1999 and sold his first fully organic coffee to Café Bom Dia through the co-op in 2004. He reels off the financial benefits of organic like a man reading from a farmer's wish list.
"This year I bought a pickup and a truck," he said, counting the gains off on his stubby fingers. "And a new washer, a freezer, a sofa, some closets, another motorbike and I've set money aside to fix my tractor. I bought a computer and my wife and I and our three kids all took a course on how to use it. And I have paid 6,000 reais for a piece of land on which to build a house for my son, who's about to get married."
"My life has changed for the better. And I am telling people that. They can see I am becoming more successful."
He has thought about using the money to buy more land. But it was not an idea he dwelt on. Life, he said, is good and crucially, manageable. And he wants it to stay that way.
"Life isn't easy here," he said. "But my life is very simple and we live well off the seven hectares we have. If we expanded then I'd be a slave to money and that's not what I want. I like my life as it is. Nice and quiet."
Coffee farmer Geraldo Amaro da Silva and family