Green bean trader Minas Hill has launched a foundation to formalise its commitment to origin and aims to ramp up its sustainability in 2020.
Since its creation eight years ago, Minas Hill has strived to support its farming partners and their communities. Founder and CEO Marcelo Brussi says this is due to his understanding and appreciation of not only the farm owners, but the workers who make coffee production possible.
“My grandfather worked on a coffee farm, and I have always valued the work of the pickers, truck and tractor drivers, and seed sowers – those doing the work we don’t always realise even exists,” Marcelo says. “We’ve intentionally partnered with producers who we can help contribute to their communities.”
The green bean trader formalised this commitment with the formation of the not-for-profit Minas Hill Foundation in October 2019. Marcelo says running Minas Hill’s philanthropic efforts through a separate entity has improved the transparency and professionalism through which these projects operate.
“The Minas Hill Foundation has been welcomed with open arms from our donors, but we were more surprised by the reaction of people who hadn’t donated money before because of a lack of traceability,” Marcelo says. “Donating through the not-for-profit provides them with a feeling of safety and security of where their money is going.”
The Minas Hill Foundation highlights four core projects, with plans to expand its reach across Brazil. Minas Hill became involved in the first of these programs six years ago, partnering with Bom Jesus farm in Alta Mogiana to support Intercity Games for the Environment (GIMA). Every year, GIMA involves more than 900 children from the surrounding 10 municipalities, promoting social and environmental responsibility and providing children with access to bicycles for transport and school equipment.
For almost as long, Minas Hill has also worked with 2018 Cup of Excellence winner Ismael Andrade to fund his local hospital, Santa Casa de Misericordia. Minas Hill encourages its buyers to donate from an additional 10 cents to $1, per bag of coffee bought from Ismael, to the hospital. Marcelo says one Australian roaster has gone as far as donating much-needed mammogram equipment to the hospital.
While these projects provide social value to their communities, the Wings program at Santo Antonio and Pinhal farms promotes environmental sustainability.
“The black market trade for exotic animals in Brazil is only behind drugs and weapons in terms of money involved, and 82 per cent of seized fauna are birds,” Marcelo says. “Brazil has the second highest bird diversity in the world, but with 175 threatened species, it comes first in that category. When captive birds are seized by the government, Wings takes care of them until they’re ready to be released back to nature.”
Minas Hill’s most recent project at origin is Flowers in Action, which aims to create new opportunities for the female farmers of the Alto da Serra Producers’ Association (APAS).
“Although APAS produces high-quality coffee, they faced challenges: selling it for best possible price, transportation, and childcare for parents who need to work. About three crops ago, we made a partnership with the women of APAS to empower, support, encourage, and recognise them,” Marcelo says.
“Through Flowers in Action, we not only create extra income from buying their coffee, but allow the women to farm independently from the men. The whole community benefits through the encouragement of these women.”
Flowers in Action also engages with the youth of the community, encouraging them to bring new ideas to coffee producing, like fermentation methods and recycling programs. Marcelo says it has been heartwarming to see the next generation, particularly young women, express interest in coffee farming.
“A daughter of one of the farmers, a 15-year-old named Anna Rubia, told me that because of this project and these new ideas, she wanted to study agronomy at university so she could come back to Alto da Serra and help the region flourish,” he says.
“We need to encourage the next generation to continue coffee farming. For Anna to tell me ‘I can see a future in this region’ shows me that what we are doing is working.”
While the foundation addresses social and environmental sustainability at origin, Minas Hill has also taken strides to improve its impact in Australia. The trader has set itself the task of becoming as sustainable as possible in 2020.
To reduce wastage caused during the import and export of coffee, Minas Hill has partnered with sustainable packaging manufacturer PlanetWare to introduce a new biohybrid plastic lining for hessian sacks used to transport coffee.
“By being in two different worlds – Brazil and Australia – I can see all the waste generated throughout the supply chain, not just at the farm and café, but in transporting coffee too,” Marcelo says.
“Current bag linings aren’t recyclable and many end up in landfill. From Brazil to Australia alone, that’s about one million bags per crop. If we can reduce that figure by even 10 per cent, we are doing great.”
The International Coffee Organization projects that 167.4 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee will be exported around the world in coffee year 2019-20, with many containing plastic linings that will end up in landfill in buyer countries.
Ben Spruzen, Managing Director of Planetware, says through working with coffee roasters, the compostable packaging company came to see plastic bag linings as a huge issue that no-one was attempting to address.
“We set about doing a whole range of testing with farmers, industry members, and bioplastics manufacturers to come up with a material capable of delivering the key components the customers requires – strength, durability, and permeability – while satisfying our sustainability values – minimising plastic use and reducing carbon footprint and toxicity throughout the supply chain,” Ben says.
“We came across a good biohybrid, a mix of plant-based materials and petrochemical plastics, which delivered the performance we needed and cut the amount of traditional plastic used by 25 per cent.”
Ben say just switching to the linings alone brings benefits of significantly less plastic entering the supply chain and a reduction in CO2 from the manufacturing process, though these are not the only environmental advantages.
“Because it’s a biohybrid, the lining can go through existing heat-sealing equipment and recycling systems to be turned into recyclable pallets and we’re been speaking with companies in those fields,” Ben says.
“We’ve also heard from importers and exporters who love the idea of repacking the linings and sending them back to origin where they can be used to store parchment. In a country with high humidity like Papua New Guinea, this could have a huge effect on reducing losses to yield.”
As well as using these bags in its own operations, Minas Hill launched a Brazilian subsidiary in November 2019 to sell the new linings direct to farmers and cooperatives in the country. As well as reducing waste on the buyer end, Marcelo says the biohybrid linings pose benefits to the producer and coffee quality.
“They are creating a better, more appealing solution for their customers, while showing they care about the environment of the destination,” he says. “This bag is Halal-certified and free from genetically modified organism, bisphenol A, and heavy metals, meaning the product is not contaminated by plastic or contact with food in transportation.”
This article appears in FULL in the December 2019 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.
For more information, visit www.minashill.com.au