Saturday, May 16, 2015

Focus on Poverty: Coffee farmers on climate front line

Roger Williamson in There is a coffee crisis brewing, SciDev.Net recently reported in a story about the effects of climate change on the crop, primarily the highly prized Arabica coffee beans. A major study modelled 21 scenarios of climate change up to 2050 on a band of 60 tropical countries either side of the equator where Arabica coffee is grown.

Although 2050 sounds far ahead, it takes three to five years to get a first crop. And coffee planted now should be productive for much of the 2020-50 period.

The common-sense view is to say: “Big food companies will be able to get coffee from somewhere — after all, Vietnam developed a coffee industry quickly.” Or: “Even if there is a couple of degrees of warming, farmers can just grow the coffee higher up the mountains.”

But it is not as easy as that. Peter L├Ąderach of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and a coauthor of the study, points out that smallholders, or farmers in major coffee producing countries such as Brazil, cannot simply move production to higher altitudes for many reasons including land tenure, terrain and to avoid further deforestation.

Indeed, most of the possible solutions — such as irrigation, extensive pest control, new or alternative crop varieties, shade systems or cultivation of new areas — are either costly or have other negative consequences. One of the few promising approaches seems to be the intercropping of bananas and coffee — with the banana plants providing an additional cash crop and shade for the coffee plants.

The economic impact will be significant, both for exporters and smallholders. Coffee is an important export for tropical countries, even though Mark Pendergrast, author of an economic history of coffee Uncommon grounds, picks apart the ‘rural myth’ that it is second only to oil in value as a traded commodity....

Coffee beans shot by Sten Porse, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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