On-site (waste)water management for small scale coffee farms in Colombia

Published on
May 24, 2016

The worldwide increase of population and economic activities often result in more production of wastewater, which, in turn, leads to water pollution as in several cases no satisfying treatment is provided. This is being recognized too in the villages of rural Colombia, where the growing and production of coffee is the main economic activity. Within the 5 years lasting project ‘Intelligent Water Management’ LeAF and Alterra work together with Cenicafé and de Extension service van de Federacion on a sub-theme: reuse and sanitation options for small scale coffee farms in Colombia. The project is a Public Private Partnership for Implementation of an Integrated Water Management System towards a Climate Intelligent Coffee Sector in Colombia.

During the processing of coffee fruit, wastewater is produced with a high organic load (at least a tenfold higher than domestic wastewater). Discharge of this water to the surface water system contributes to a decrease of the water quality.

In cities, used water is (partially) collected in a sewer system and treatment occurs in a centralized wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). This approach is not an option in the rural area. Other local,  effective solutions, that in addition are cheap and easy to maintain, preferably by the farmers themselves, are necessary. Making use of local conditions, e.g. available land, differences in altitude, and climatological conditions, gives opportunities to design systems that are fit for purpose and will prevent that local farmers will pollute the surface water systems unnecessarily. Wastewater is not only a problem but also a product full of resources that can be reused. It contains solid organic matter, which can be composted together with the solid residuals of the coffee production process. Compost has value in agriculture as soil improver and fertilizer. The nutrients in the wastewater are beneficial for crop production too. And also the water itself, when (partially) treated or the cleaner sub-streams (like grey water, storm water) represent a resource, e.g. for irrigated agriculture.

LeAF and Alterra identify the current situation and develop the necessary conditions and compendium of feasible technological interventions for sustainable treatment and reuse of household and coffee wastewater and solid waste, resulting in a better environmental quality and increased productivity at the small scale coffee farms in Colombia. Composting of solid residuals of coffee and differences in altitude as a basis for waste (water) treatment on small coffee farms.

For more information, contact Katarzyna Kujawa-Roeleveld (LeAF) ( ) or Joop Harmsen (Alterra) (