Growing any organic product, including organic
coffee, is more than just leaving out fertilizers and other agro-chemicals.
Coffee produced in this way should instead be called 'natural' coffee and, to
the surprise of many, the industry looks upon this as non-sustainable production. This is because,
in the long run, the soil will be depleted by natural production, which is often
referred to also as 'passive cultivation' or 'organic by default'.
To achieve sustainable production it is necessary to make
active use of various organic agriculture techniques including the composting of
organic material, mulching of the soil under the trees with organic material,
use of biological pest control, and investing in shade regulation. The principle
of sustainable agriculture is that a value corresponding to that harvested
should be returned to the soil. All possible methods have to be used to enhance
the fertility of the soil. This is why passive production of coffee, even when
no chemicals are used, is viewed as non-sustainable and not as organic.
According to European Union regulations these standards
must be followed:
(Minimum standards according to and adapted from
EU-2092/91. See Annex II of EU-2092/91 for further specifications of approved
CERTIMEX, a leading organic certifying organization
from Mexico, has formulated standards specifically for coffee.
(Adapted from CERTIMEX: Normas para la producción de
Usually, a producer may simultaneously grow both
conventional and organic coffee, although this is not recommended. There must be
a clear separation between the two types and adequate barriers to prevent
contamination with agro-chemicals from neighbouring fields.
Coffee may normally be sold as organic only once
organic cultivation has been practised for at least three years before the first
marketable harvest. This also means three years of inspection. These years are
called the conversion period.
In specific cases, depending on previous
agricultural practices, this conversion period may be reduced, but only after
approval of the certifying organization, which in turn has to report such a
decision to the authority granting the import permit in the European Union
Member State concerned. For a producer who can prove that no agro-chemicals have
been used in the past, it is important to try to reduce the conversion period.
If a producer can document that no agro-chemicals have recently been used, it is
certainly worthwhile discussing the possibility with the certifier.