Consórcio Cerrado das Aguas (Waters of the Cerrado Consortium) – promoting coffee and conservation

Full Solution
The launch of the Consórcio Cerrado das Aguas (Waters of the Cerrado Consortium) in 2015
@IUCN Brazil

The Waters of the Cerrado Consortium unites coffee growers, producers, researchers and environmentalists in maintaining ecosystem services on which agricultural supply chains including coffee depend. Its focus is conservation and restoration of native vegetation in Brazil's Minas Gerais State to safeguard water supplies. The Cerrado, in the country's central highland plains, is a major source of water for Brazil.


The consortium works with stakeholders across the coffee supply chain focusing initially on a pilot site – the Feio watershed in Patrocinio, a major coffee growing area. Efforts are under way to improve soil and water management; promote information and knowledge exchange through outreach services for farmers; and promote legal compliance on farms, including applying Brazil’s Forest Code at the landscape level.

Last update: 05 Jul 2019
Challenges addressed
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness

The Cerrado is home to successful agribusinesses but several environmental factors threaten the region’s long-term sustainability. Quality coffee is produced at scale and farms have a high level of certification. But coffee producers will face many challenges, the main one being dwindling water supplies.


Vegetation loss and soil erosion threaten ecosystem services such as water regulation, pollination and climate regulation. Coffee producers realise the importance of ecosystems to productivity and are concerned about environmental impacts but have been acting on a farm level. 


After its start-up phase, the consortium needs funding to achieve an integrated approach to managing the landscape and agricultural practices. This would include the expansion of conservation and restoration work to at least six additional watersheds (covering 70% of coffee production) and mobilising producers in the region to implement the consortium’s vision.

Scale of implementation
Temperate deciduous forest
Temperate evergreen forest
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical evergreen forest
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Ecosystem services
Sustainable livelihoods
Land management
South America
Summary of the process

The building blocks combine as a structure for piloting collective action which is a fundamental basis for the consortium’s expansion and replication. This structure helps to manage knowledge generated, harness lessons learned and understand patterns between the various actions.


The platform faces a complex challenge given that this region includes 55 municipalities and thousands of different interests. The first building block addresses the need for a legitimate, articulate and relevant team of institutions strategically interested in the region, to define a common vision. The consortium was fortunate to be founded by robust international players such as IUCN and Nespresso. Partnership between a private sector actor that has an economic interest in the area’s conservation because of a supply chain risk and a leading international environmental organisation made the platform influential from the start. Concerted efforts were made to ensure the platform included voices that represented the whole region.


For the platform to grow and achieve its full potential, it is important that it has a clear action plan and a governance structure robust enough for expansion.


Building Blocks
Matching international expertise with on-the-ground knowledge

The consortium has made concerted effort to build on rather than duplicate existing work. Some members have been active in this region for the last 15 years and have gained a wealth of experience. This is now being matched with the national and international expertise of other members to guide strategic coordination of activities.


New partnerships are being formed at all levels and information shared among diverse players. Those with technical or scientific expertise are teaming up with NGOs that have the will and capacity to generate change. One example is that IUCN will help local NGO Imaflora develop biodiversity indicators for the consortium’s handbook on conservation and best agricultural practices. IUCN has also mobilised key coffee brands (Lavazza, Illy and Nestlé) along with Nespresso to discuss a potential collaboration for expanding the consortium.

Enabling factors
  • Capacity to map all stakeholders present in the area and interested in participating, to build a platform that is legitimate, representative and capable of implementing change.
Lesson learned

A number of valuable lessons have been harnessed. Among these it is important to:


  • Understand all the interests and stakeholders of any given region;


  • Have international sponsors that can bring expertise to the platform;


  • Map local organisations working in the region that have an established and successful track record;


  • Use co-creation as the main approach to defining strategy and action plans.


While the initial impetus came from one company – Nespresso – the consortium uses a sectoral approach, aiming to ultimately change the behaviour of the entire coffee supply chain. A sectoral approach promotes more powerful change, sends a strong signal to the market, as well as ensures the consortium’s sustainability.

Detailed action plan and budget

The consortium’s vision has been transformed into a clear action plan outlining specific workstreams, accompanied by a detailed budget:


  • Connected landscapes
  • Climate-intelligent farming practices
  • Ensured water resources
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Fundraising


The action plan is built on an extensive assessment based on satellite images and interviews with each land owner or producer in the area. Broad consultation took place with all those involved and potentially impacted by the interventions (farmers, members, government agencies and donors). The plan includes details of who will do what by when which is key to monitoring progress against overall objectives. All of this is reassuring for donors and investors who can see that their funding is being effectively targeted.

Enabling factors
  • Clarity about the group’s vision and the objectives of each workstream.


  • A long and in-depth preparation phase gathering detailed knowledge of each property.


Lesson learned

As a pioneer initiative that is expanding, adjustments are needed to ensure a smooth implementation phase and concrete results which the group can learn from. To date, the consortium has focused on short-term actions and immediate goals.


In order to engage further donors and partners, the consortium has developed an action plan with concrete objectives while addressing the costs and potential partners for each activity.

Robust and independent governance structure

The consortium’s governance model will be different to that of largest sustainability platforms which bring together diverse stakeholders. It comprises a board, an innovation fund, committees, a management team and implementing partners, each with a clear role. This helps to reduce the risk of conflicts of interest. On-the-ground sustainability interests drive the platform rather than competition over funding, mandates and influence. The management team coordinates the execution of the action plan and monitors impact. Regular meetings take place to ensure alignment among partners and that workstreams make progress towards overarching goals and vision.

Enabling factors

A key element of the consortium’s success is that the while the strategy is designed by the members of the board, who safeguard the long-term interest in the future and prosperity of the region, implementation will be done by specialists and coordinated by a management team.


Lesson learned

In order to replicate and expand the actions of the platform it is important to have a governance structure with board members who are not directly responsible for implementation to avoid conflict of interest.


When actions on the ground are coordinated by a professional management team rather than isolated organisations, this team can learn, replicate the work and communicate results more effectively during the platform’s expansion.

  • The consortium is boosting action from a farm to a landscape level. There are now shared goals and coordinated efforts – peer pressure is encouraging everyone to act.


  • Information exchange and capacity building are strengthening ongoing actions to address water scarcity and natural resource depletion.


  • There is a shift in attitude and behaviour among the community towards sustainability and a better understanding of common threats to ecosystem services as well as priority conservation values.


  • The consortium has secured USD 190,000 to implement key activities in 2018 and 2019 with the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).


Impacts can be grouped as follows:


Sustainable landscapes


  • Rehabilitation of degraded areas
  • Spatial planning for conservation strategy
  • Landscape restoration
  • Maintenance of ecosystem services


Knowledge and best practice


  • Training
  • Technical assistance
  • Awareness raising
  • Capacity building
  • Monitoring of indicators


Sustainable supply chains


  • Compliance with environmental legislation
  • Competitive differentiation/designation of origin
  • Certification

Coffee growers, coffee producers and local communities.

Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals

“The water of today is an outcome of the landscapes we build.”

Vision statement of the Waters of the Cerrado Consortium


The Patrocinio municipality in the Cerrado region is one of Brazil’s major coffee producing areas. Its main water source is the Feio watershed, a tributary of the Dourados River which flows into the Paranaiba River in turn, supplying 193 municipalities – a significant part of the Brazilian population.


Between 1970 and 1980, the Feio watershed suffered intense change through cattle farming and cereal and coffee production. But over time coffee farms have become more professional and have improved their land management to ensure better conditions for future generations. 


Farmers have adopted appropriate soil management techniques, restored degraded areas, helped conserve protected areas, and protected the area’s water sources.


However, further action is still needed as water shortages in the region have become more frequent in recent years. Increasing awareness, encouraging good practices and concerted restoration efforts can help safeguard the watershed.


The Waters of the Cerrado Consortium selected the Feio watershed to host its first pilot project with a view to scaling up the model across other watersheds.


This innovative engagement has proved to be a viable option for building a new model focussed on long-term solutions in the Cerrado region and has the potential to inspire other players who are ready to step up to make a difference.

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