Coffee and Climate Change: From the Frontlines

Over the past decade while working as the Director of Green Coffee for Peace Coffee, I have seen first hand the impacts of climate change on coffee fields, coffee harvests, and coffee quality.

Anne CostelloOver many cups of coffee, I have heard farmers describe how temperatures are increasing, weather patterns are changing, and diseases are affecting crops at higher rates.

Climate change has an immediate and sustained impact by reducing crop yields and increasing costs of operation, negatively impacting the estimated 12.5 million coffee farms throughout the world. And it is only expected to get worse. By 2050, some models predict that half of the world’s coffee-producing area will no longer be suitable for coffee production.

The news is dire. But as hard as it’s been to witness the impacts of climate change on Peace Coffee’s producer partners and read the predictions of what may lie ahead, it’s been equally invigorating to see solutions in action.

One of my most memorable farmer visits occurred in 2013 during a dark time in coffee. Coffee leaf rust, a disease that attacks the leaves of a coffee tree and causes major crop losses, was creating an epidemic throughout coffee growing regions in part due to climate change. At that time, I found myself in Honduras meeting with the COMSA cooperative and as we drove, I saw field after field of leafless coffee trees.

This was my first time seeing the devastation of coffee leaf rust in person. The stark image has stuck with me since.

But there is another image from this trip that has also stuck with me — one that showcases hope, innovation, and resiliency against these distressing circumstances. This is an image of the farm of Oscar Omar Alonzo Aguilar, a member of the COMSA cooperative in Honduras.

Oscar Omar Alonzo Aguilar's Farm
Oscar Omar Alonzo Aguilar’s farm

Looking across his coffee field, I saw his organic parcel on my left, which was lush and green, while his neighbor’s conventional plot had been decimated by coffee leaf rust. The disease was all around us, but his coffee trees were protected as a result of his use of soil building and regenerative organic agricultural methods. These methods not only protected his trees, they led to record harvests and yields during the rust epidemic — while simultaneously showcasing the power of a climate change solution that both adapts to climate change impacts and mitigates carbon emissions.

Personally, this story highlights the importance of connecting to producers so that we can understand what obstacles exist and where solutions lie. By doing so, we can go beyond normal trade and help build resiliency within our supply chain. After this visit, Peace Coffee helped launch a fund to leverage innovative organic agricultural practices. In addition, the COMSA cooperative has shared these beneficial agricultural techniques through farmer-to-farmer training with producer cooperatives throughout Central and South America.

As time went on, I saw more and more examples of the impacts of climate change on Peace Coffee’s producer partners, beyond just coffee leaf rust. Time and time again I was reminded that small-scale, organic coffee farmers have the ability to implement solutions but they need greater access to technical and financial resources to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

So in 2017, Peace Coffee launched the Carbon, Climate, and Coffee Initiative.

Our goal with this fund is twofold — to help us better understand the carbon footprint within our supply chain and to support producer-led projects focusing on climate change mitigation practices.

Firstly, this fund has helped support the customization of the Cool Farm Tool for coffee farmers. Through the use of this tool, farmers will be able to track carbon sequestration and identify the environmental impact of their farming practices so they have the ability to make informed decisions. For Peace, the data from the tool will help us understand how much carbon is being sequestered within our supply chain so we can begin to pay premiums to farmers for their environmental services. Long term, the goal of this project is to measure our carbon footprint and directly offset the emissions we cannot reduce within our supply chain.

The second type of initiative supported by this fund is producer-driven, innovative projects that focus on improving yields, agronomic training, and engaging young farmers through regenerative, organic agricultural practices.

A few examples of these projects include: in Peru, the Sol&Café cooperative utilized intensive pruning systems that substantially increased yields in a shorter timeframe than planting new trees. In Guatemala, Manos Campesinas implemented best organic practices in demonstration plots of young farmers that tripled yields and engaged young members.

Coffee Landscape Peru

Coffee Landscape Guatemala

In Ethiopia, this fund supported compost training at the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, where combating historically low yields is one important component of building resiliency in our supply chain. Additional projects include reforestation initiatives, crop diversification to combat food insecurity, on-farm production of biodynamic inputs, and supporting organically trained agronomists.

I’m proud to report that Peace Coffee has invested over $150,000 into the Carbon, Climate, and Coffee fund to date. We were founded to support farmers’ livelihoods, their communities, and their environment by purchasing fair trade organically grown coffee through long-term relationships with producer cooperatives.

We recently celebrated our 25th anniversary, and we look forward to celebrating another 25 years of building sustainable and resilient supply chains by supporting people and the planet alongside profit, no matter what challenges may lie ahead.

Anne Costello is the Director of Green Coffee at Peace Coffee, a 100% fair trade and organic, B Corp certified coffee roaster located in Minneapolis. At Peace Coffee, Anne oversees the company’s supply chain, from sourcing coffee to tracking the company’s continued progress in meeting Peace Coffee’s mission. Anne started working in coffee over ten years ago and has relished the opportunity to learn from coffee farmers throughout the world. She seeks to understand the barriers coffee farmers face in order to create real, sustained, and meaningful change to the way coffee is traded and valued. She remains continually inspired by the complexity of coffee and how it connects people and places thousands of miles away.

This blog is part of the Look Up: Voices to Power story series grounding us in the people of the climate movement — encouraging us to “look up” and onward toward solutions that are happening right now across our communities. Stay engaged in the series with #LookUpSpeakOut and @climategenorg.

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