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    Climate Change and the Coffee Industry


    International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2010

    The International Coffee Organization considers that climate change will be one of the most important factors affecting future global coffee production, with smallholders the most vulnerable group.

    Rising temperatures may damage or render unviable some producing areas, making it necessary to identify alternative crops. Incidences of pests and diseases will increase. The need for irrigation would increase pressure on both scarce water resources and costs of production. The industry must adapt and also reduce its own contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

    What should be the priorities for action?

    Short-term technical solutions will vary by country and between areas. Many farmers and local stakeholders who are already experiencing climate change have innovative ideas on adaptation and mitigation, and external assistance should build on these local approaches.

    Measures to reduce GHG emissions are equally important but it is proving difficult for farmers to gain carbon offset credits, mostly because projects to reduce GHG emissions must demonstrate their "additionality", i.e., coffee farms have to prove that they create GHG savings that are additional to anything that might happen anyway. To date, agri-based offsets are not widespread.

    Long-term strategies at the production level are essential, such as improving framework conditions for adaptation and building capacities, including financing mechanisms. Improving access to information, including market and technological information, and investing in social capital are also important.

    For more information, visit www.ico.org and search for "climate change".
    The coffee industry is in the preliminary stages of transforming strategy into action and short-term solutions deserve priority.

    Towards carbon-neutral coffee

    Supermarket chains, other retailers and consumer organizations are urging the coffee distribution chain to achieve a carbon-neutral product footprint, i.e., that carbon emissions produced by the coffee chain are offset by carbon-reducing activities. However, credits generated through agricultural practices, like coffee production, are not eligible under the mandatory carbon market, including the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The World Bank's Carbon Finance Unit website offers detailed, practical information at http://go.worldbank.org/9IGUMTMED0

    Voluntary offset credits require less documentation and financial investment than mandatory CDM markets and offer better options for coffee growers. Take-up is slow, as it is hampered by an absence of properly regulated methodologies for setting up the credits. For more information on standards, see www.co2offsetresearch.org

    For more information about climate change and the coffee industry, visitwww.thecoffeeguide.org

    Potential strategies to make coffee producers better prepared

    • Detailed monitoring of changes in climate and production to determine which crops are best produced where and help ensure that government guidance and assistance are correctly targeted.
    • Mapping of likely climate change within each coffee region - the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change helps least developed countries to identify their immediate priorities for adaptation options. (For a list of proposed projects, see http://unfccc.int/national_reports/napa/items/2719.php)
    • Migration of production - latitudinal migration could be north- or southwards in search of more appropriate climatic conditions. Altitudinal migration would move production to areas of higher altitude where the climate could become more suitable.
    • Estimating the potential impact of climate change on coffee quality - areas currently favourable for coffee production may no longer be so in 20 years, and others currently too cold may become suitable.
    • Devising strategies to diversify out of coffee where necessary - to date diversification has proven particularly challenging, mainly due to the lack of adequate substitute crops.
    • Evaluating available adaptation techniques - although originally a shade tree, coffee also prospers without shade in zones with adequate climate and soils.
    • High-density planting, vegetated soils and irrigation aim at maintaining and/or increasing organic matter and soil water-retention capacity, thereby enhancing the viability of cultivation under adverse climatic conditions.
    • Genetic breeding based on selective breeding aims to contribute to the long-term sustainability of coffee cultivation in lands potentially affected by climate change. Also, research on varieties that demand less water and on developing varieties that could cope with higher temperatures is equally important.