Interview with Henrique Sloper, Camocim biodynamic farm owner, Brazil
Camocim is a 300 hectare timber and coffee farm located at some 1,100 metres above sea level in Espírito Santo, Brazil. Henrique Sloper took over Camocim from his grandfather and first planted coffee on the farm in 1999. Following a two year conversion process, Camocim was officially certified as biodynamic in 2008.
Why did you decide to go biodynamic?
Once you understand what biodynamic means, it doesn’t make much sense not to be biodynamic if you are already organic. It’s not all that much more expensive and it improves things across the board – the health of the plants, the quality of the fruit, the nutritional value, the final cup...Besides, everything we do on my farm has always been based on the idea of sustainability and preservation of the environment. I learnt this from my grandfather. Before the idea of conservation existed in Brazil, he was already practising it - he has probably planted ten million trees in his lifetime!
What makes biodynamics different from conventional organic farming?
You can’t be biodynamic without already being organic, so biodynamics is like a bonus for the farm. With organics you already have to eliminate chemicals; what biodynamic does is add an extra layer – of protection for the plants, of soil fertilisation, and, ultimately, of quality.
So how would you sum up biodynamic farming?
Put simply, biodynamic is all about connecting agriculture to the cycles of nature. We are very much controlled by the biodynamic calendar - the phases of the moon, stars and the zodiac.
This idea isn't new - the science of biodynamics has been practised by human beings for thousands of years. Take Stonehenge, or the Ancient Egyptians, or the Incas at Machu Picchu - all of these societies were regulated by the equinoxes and solstices. They lived according to the cycles of the planets and moon, and were very successful in terms of agriculture long before humans had access to any form of technology.
Has converting to biodynamics been a success?
The numbers speak for themselves. My farm has an excellent production record - we produce on average 25-30 bags per hectare; the average for Brazil is 15 bags. So we are producing as much - if not a lot more - than a farm not using biodynamic methods. Most people think I am pulling their leg when I show them the numbers!
I'm going to do this for the rest of my life. Biodynamics is not just a farming method; it's a way of life. Once you become connected to these processes and you really feel the difference of what you are doing - in terms of quality and final product - there's no going back.
What do you think of the more esoteric biodynamic practices, like burying fertiliser in cow horns and sprinkling quartz on the land?
You have to be careful when you talk about this subject because when you start discussing burying horns in the ground most people have a weird reaction - usually they think I'm completely mad! But these practices are very important - biodynamics is all about re-energising the land, and the horns act as antennas of energy. It may sound a little crazy but as far as I am concerned it works, and that's all I need to know.
Does biodynamic farming have any downsides?
It is slightly more labour intensive, because you have to apply the preparations to the crop at least twice a year and everything is done by hand. But I think that the return is very interesting - once you have a healthier plant and a healthier environment, you reduce disease dramatically, so in the long term it actually might save you some money.
Do you know of any other biodynamic coffee farmers in Brazil?
I am the most visible guy, because I am probably the largest biodynamic coffee farmer in Brazil, but there are others, most of them very small farmers. The problem is that they produce very good fruit, but they don't usually have good post-harvest procedures. So I have been doing a lot of work with the Biodynamic Association of Brazil, travelling around the country, working with these people to help them to produce a good quality green bean.
What are your hopes for the future?
The biodynamic coffee market is growing extremely quickly. At the moment, I can't produce enough coffee - I actually have to turn away customers. Last year, we planted 30,000 trees on the farm, this year we are going to plant another 50,000. But after that I don't want to expand much more; my main goal now is to establish a network of biodynamic growers across Brazil. It is very difficult - much easier said than done - because you have to deal with so many small guys, who will maybe produce five or six bags each, and all of whom have different opinions! But it is very exciting. The truth is that this is the very, very beginning of the story of biodynamic coffee in Brazil.