Climate change has been very much in the spotlight recently. Global leaders meeting at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference worked overtime to try to reach meaningful, shared commitments that might address the ongoing problem of rising temperatures and an increasing number of extreme weather events.
However effective those commitments made at Paris 2015 might prove to be, the impacts of climate change are already being felt throughout the world, and few of us are more vulnerable to climate volatility than small-scale farmers in the developing world.
As Dessalegn Jena, general manager of Trade Aid’s Ethiopian coffee trading partner Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, states simply, ‘If climate change continues at the rate it is currently going, we will struggle to grow coffee in Ethiopia’.
Already, coffee growers around the world are struggling to combat the effects of volatile weather patterns and Trade Aid visits to producer countries now routinely coincide with unusually dry spells, or abnormally wet spells, or – in the most extreme impact to date that we can associate with climate change, a devastating outbreak of coffee leaf rust disease (roya) in Central America. Coffee leaf rust is a disease that has become established throughout the coffee-growing regions of Central America in recent decades, but farmers have generally been able to manage the impact of this disease on their coffee trees. However, a run of relatively high temperatures in the early part of this decade enabled the disease to spread quickly and beat farmers’ efforts to contain it.
A recent visit to Guaya’b, our longest-standing coffee trading partner in Guatemala, highlighted both the magnitude of the challenge that coffee farmers can face in the wake of climate-related events, and also the positive impact that a well-run co-operative (with support from Trade Aid and other fair trade partners) can have in mitigating the effects of climate change on these farmers.
Coffee production in the Huehuetenango region of western Guatemala, where Guaya’b is based, was hit particularly hard by coffee leaf rust disease in the early 2010’s. In the face of this challenge, Guaya’b has focused most if its available resources on two goals; firstly to help its members to manage their way through this crisis as best they could, but also to then help them to come out the other side of their current drop in production in the strongest way possible.
Protecting the existing tree stocks of its members was understood to be key to meeting the first of these two objectives; by covering or subsidising the cost of farmers carrying out preventative spraying programs, and by providing extra fertiliser, Guaya’b could help to improve the rust-resistance of its members’ trees.
Focusing as much resource as possible on this task helped Guaya’b to achieve these objectives and funding supplied by Trade Aid has played a critical role in this area of its work.
A visit by Trade Aid’s Justin Purser to the farm of Romeo Mendoza helped to illustrate the scale of the challenge that these farmers were facing.
Between the 2012-13 harvest and the 2014-15 Guatemalan harvests, Romeo’s production fell by around 65%. Having received some support with spraying from Guaya’b (for approximately one hectare of coffee), Romeo’s trees are now generally looking healthy again but are still not carrying as many cherries as normal as the plants focus on recovering their strength. Romeo has also been doing more weeding, and pruning of trees, than usual as part of his overall effort to control roya.
‘My coffee was badly affected by roya, but now it’s recovering well. Last year at this time, these plants didn’t have any leaves’, Romeo explained. ‘I know that I need to invest in my coffee trees; I grow beans and corn for us to eat at home, but I know that I still need to grow coffee as it’s the best way I can provide for the other needs of my family. My sons have some health problems, which is a challenge; coffee remains the only way I have of helping them’.
The resources that will be required to enable coffee farmers such as Romeo – and other small-scale farmers in the developing world – to sustain their livelihoods in the face of climate change will be significant. Trade Aid will continue to focus on ways we can channel extra value to farmers through our relationships with farmer-owned co-operatives, building on the impact we have already achieved to date.
To deepen your understanding of climate change and its impact on coffee production, we recommend that you delve into coffee and climate’s comprehensive guide to the subject by following this link