Gaia Herbs buys over 100,000 pounds of organic Turmeric root every year, the largest amount of a single herb we purchase. Turmeric is one of the most respected traditional herbs and we incorporate it into our products in a variety of ways.
The sourcing story
This past April, Gaia’s sourcing team visited our Turmeric supplier in Nicaragua. Our primary Turmeric partner, Doselva, started as a triple bottom line business — one that puts as much focus on their social and environmental goals as on their profit. Their core values are to keep small farmers at the center of their business, diversify the farmers’ income, and support shade and organically grown farming methods. From the beginning of our relationship, we saw the potential Doselva had to be more than a supplier. They were the first recipient of our Global Supply Chain Investment Fund grant to develop regenerative agriculture training materials for their network of 450 farmers.
The founder, Jefferson Shriver, is an American who has been living in Nicaragua for over 20 years. Our first stop on the trip was to his farm an hour outside of Granada, where the company is based. If it sounds a little surprising that Turmeric is being grown in Nicaragua, you are not wrong! Turmeric is a new crop to Nicaragua. After a career in developing agricultural opportunities for farmers, Shriver, a coffee fanatic, started his own farm to grow coffee and spices for a café he previously owned. After years of experimentation there, he saw the potential that spices like Turmeric, Ginger, Cardamom, and Vanilla could have on shade-grown coffee farms throughout Nicaragua.
What is regenerative agriculture?
While Turmeric is new to Nicaragua, coffee is part of the fabric of life. Every farmer the team met was also an organic, fair trade coffee farmer, as well as the generations before them. Quality coffee grows in a range of 3,500-6,000 feet of elevation. Climate change is causing longer and hotter dry seasons, and after living there and growing coffee for years, another thing became clear to Shriver: the viable region for growing coffee was getting smaller.
In a nutshell, regeneration is about leaving things better than you found them. It goes beyond sustainability’s goal of keeping the status quo for future generations. In agriculture, “regeneration” looks like practices that build the soil, helping to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. At Doselva, agroforestry is one of the primary ways they achieve this. Agroforestry is a method of farming that incorporates vertical layers of plants – the canopy – to increase the yield per acre, provide shade, and create natural compost from falling leaves to reduce the amount of water needed. Crops like coffee, cocoa, and bananas are grown so broadly and are typically very low prices. With the long term viability of coffee unknown, Turmeric provides a higher price without requiring farmers to obtain more land.
The sourcing team learned about the Guanacaste tree in Nicaragua, which is often used on coffee plantations as the top story in the canopy. Its leaves are light and feathery, allowing sun to filter to the lower levels. These systems add habitat for animals, erosion control, and organic matter to the soil and increase biodiversity. By working upwards, you are increasing the number of plants you can grow in an area. Doselva is adding Turmeric and Ginger to this system, and by growing it on the forest floor, farmers gain another source of income.
But can agriculture really make a dent in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? The world’s soil has two to three times more carbon than the atmosphere, and its ability to store more, while not limitless, is extensive (1). Poor soil quality affects the yield and quality of farms growing our food. Soils that are alive from sustainable, organic, and regenerative agriculture are proven to be huge sinks for carbon from the atmosphere.
Diversifying farms and income
Coffee farmers in Nicaragua have also been struggling with crop failures and volatile pricing for the past decade. They have found their crops wiped out by a plant disease called leaf rust. While new coffee varieties have been developed that are resistant, it takes four years to mature before harvesting can start. Turmeric is a great companion plant, especially in between these new rows of coffee. Turmeric matures in 10 months, giving farmers quicker harvests at a steadier and more premium price while they wait for their coffee harvest.
While in Nicaragua, one of the most inspiring farms the team visited was owned by Nolvin Munoz. Munoz regularly takes classes on agriculture and does experiments on his farm to learn the best methods for his crops. He started with four acres of Turmeric and Cardamom for Doselva. The team saw how well planned his farm is, with Shriver pointing out the rows of diverse crops and a multi-story shade canopy with over ten tree species. He said that his Turmeric profits are significantly higher than coffee despite the larger amount of land under coffee cultivation.
Munoz went on to talk about his siblings, all of whom moved to the US. His father taught him to farm, and when the team asked what kept him there rather than leaving for city life, he said he couldn’t imagine leaving, describing his love for the country, the animals and plants, and his desire to take care of his parents. This helped us understand why the question stumped him. “Farming is fun,” Munoz said, expressing his desire to be outside all day and in a constant state of learning.
Doselva also stands for the way regeneration can apply to business. By following the same principle of “leave it better than you found it,” they are developing a generation of farmers that have more sustainable farms and can supply better lives for their families. When you have farmers like Munoz who prove that you can farm with the larger environment in mind while increasing your profits, skeptical neighbors will follow their lead, creating a larger network of climate resilient diversified farms.