Jeff Hayward, climate director of the Rainforest Alliance, shares his thoughts on a powerful new video exploring the very real impacts of climate change on the world’s coffee farmers.
This extremely poignant video sounds a loud alarm for the future of coffee farmers and the quality beans we’ve come to love. The coffee trade and the millions of farmers who have depended on a tradition of coffee cultivation face grave challenges in the coming decades, while even the near future is filled with stress for many because of climate change.
Arabica coffee is highly vulnerable to warming temperatures. It’s optimal average annual temperature range is between 18° and 21°C, and as models project increases by at least 3°C for most coffee-growing regions by the end of this century, cultivation of premium coffees will likely be pushed to higher elevations. Whether Colombian, Kenyan or Sumatran, farmers will run out of mountain and climate change will threaten the livelihoods of farmers who have historically been able to grow the world’s finest coffee.
In fact, many farmers are already beginning to feel to effects of climate change. The recent coffee rust outbreak in Mexico and Central America occurred on altitudes higher than usual, affecting hundreds of thousands of farmers and reducing production by around 30 percent. Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee farms in the region, however, have reported that they are less affected by rust than their neighbors, perhaps due to the higher shade cover and natural fertilizers found on their certified farms.
Adapting to climate change will take a dedicated effort to channel the best of science and practice, with financing needed to stimulate innovation and support local initiative and knowledge. Finding solutions for the problems impacting coffee now, as well as over the next generation and through 2050, is of great importance to the Rainforest Alliance.
Today we are actively working to help farmers gain the knowledge, tools and skills they need to combat the challenges of a changing climate. We are training smallholder coffee farmers to implement climate-smart farming techniques, many of which expand on the knowledge and benefits farmers gained by following best practices of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards required for Rainforest Alliance certification.
To date, over 500 Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee-farming operations across Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala have achieved verification against the SAN Climate Module. Farmers who participate in Rainforest Alliance certification programs are able to increase their household incomes through better yields and higher harvest prices. Where household incomes rise, farms may have improved adaptive capacity, since farm-level responses require investments that can be out of reach for poor households.
There isn’t one fix or technique that will help coffee farmers, but it’s certain that they will need information on climate change and its impacts on production, better seasonal forecasts, improved management methods and more. The Rainforest Alliance and its partners aim to increase access to new technology and practices, while conserving the age-old ways that are working.