When it comes to food production, sustainability pays. Here’s how

A coffee farmers, pictured above, in Alto Mayo, Peru. (© Conservation International/photo by Chris Tuite)

What do Ecuador’s tuna fishers, Botswana’s cattle herders and Peru’s coffee farmers have in common? Students are finding ways for them to make more money.

Conservation International, in partnership with The University of California-Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Anderson School of Management as part of its Applied Management Research (AMR) program, worked with graduate-level UCLA business students in Galapagos, Botswana and Peru to strengthen livelihoods in these areas while maintaining sustainability.

In honor of World Environment Day, here’s what the next generation of environmentalists found.

  1. For tuna fisheries in Galapagos, cut out the middleman

Fishermen in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador receive only about 40 percent of the value of the tuna they sell. Part of that has to do with the fact that there is only one buyer, who exports the fish to local and international vendors.

The Galapagos Marine Sanctuary and the network of 21 no-take zones (NTZ) protects about 47,000 square kilometers (about 18,000 square miles) of this marine protected area. This network is part of a new marine zoning scheme aimed to protect species and key biodiversity areas within the reserve.

UCLA students Guilherme Kobylko, Daniel Osorio, Traci Kuratomi, Will Berman and Kevin Oswald developed a market analysis for the Galapagos tuna and billfish fisheries. They found that the fishers could make more money from their catches if they create a new cooperative of local fishers to negotiate their collective needs, vary the fishing trip schedule, hire a tuna quality assessor and implement the EcoGourmet program in Ecuador.

As a single fisher, it’s difficult to attract the attention of large companies, but as a cooperative the Galapagos fishers could negotiate with more companies and get better prices for their fish. This also provides a way to get around the middleman, who sucks up most of the fish’s value.

Most of the fishing trips last from Monday to Friday, which means the market is flooded with fresh fish on Friday, when the boats come in. If the fishers varied the trips and went to market on different days of the week, they would get better prices for their fresh fish. Also, a tuna quality assessor at the market would be able to determine which fish can fetch a better price.

The EcoGourmet program connects small-scale fishers directly with local restaurants. In Colombia, fishers joined the program to bolster their income while ensuring restaurants get a steady supply of fish. If the program expanded to Ecuador, local fishers would enjoy the same opportunities.

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  1. For Botswana’s herders, increase cow and land health

The cattle industry in Botswana is a buyers’ market — so much so that 81 percent of herders will take low prices for cattle when they must sell them. The market is informal, and most of the buyers sell to their friends and neighbors because information about who is selling or buying is limited.

UCLA students reviewed the cattle industry and developed a new business model and financial plan for herders in Botswana.

UCLA students Nitya Ramaswami, Marianne Monroe, Brendan McNickle, Shivesh Bakshi and Richard Mopas found that Botswana has a surplus of cattle that leads to land degradation. Also, herders usually don’t vaccinate their cattle, which leads to disease outbreaks. Herders can get more value for their cattle by planning out grazing patterns and vaccinating their cattle — which will also improve rangeland and herd health.

The students also saw progress when herders entered into conservation agreements with Conservation International. The agreements paired herders up with experts who taught them how to prevent land degradation through planned grazing.

  1. For coffee farmers in Peru, start a local certification program

International programs that certify fair trade and sustainable coffee such as Fair Trade Certified, Rainforest Alliance and USDA Organic, don’t consider the local constraints that are different for every farmer. Certifications are challenging for small farmers because of the lack of access; most certification programs don’t account for cultural or regional differences; and the process can be lengthy and too expensive. Although these certifications are helpful to consumers who want to quickly learn where their coffee came from, coffee farmers in San Martin, Peru, are creating their own certification program that meets their specialized standards.

UCLA students, Alfredo Noriega, Michael Snyder, Pascual Eley, Ryan Imamura and Santiago Fernandez worked with Conservation International teams to support the development of an environmentally sustainable value chain for coffee production in the San Martin region. The team researched how best to incentivize local farmers, while considering the social and economic impacts on the small communities.

The students found that small farmer financial security needs to be addressed and improved before they can get involved in conservation initiatives. If the San Martin farmers establish cooperatives to collectively negotiate for better prices, it could increase their income by 77 percent.

Cooperatives can also attract the business of specialty coffee companies, which can increase small farmer income by 60 percent. Consumers are increasingly choosing specialty coffee, which drives premiums in coffee market prices.

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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