Using science to tackle climate change in the coffee world

Costa Rican coffee producers are fighting climate change through agroforestry, harvesting rainwater and the use of more resisting varieties. 

Main coffee producing countries are facing difficulties such as the proliferation of diseases and the loss of arable land. We discussed the consequences of climate change in the coffee production in “We could lose coffee to climate change,” after the Climate Institute of Australia released a report explaining the problems in August.

Costa Rica hasn’t been saved from this effects, “Our coffee production per hectare has dropped due to early ripening of the fruit and diseases,” Maritza Cal, a coffee farmer told IPS. Also, international market competition and the expansion of urbanization in the country caused their coffee farms to shrink from 34,000 in 1984 to 26,000 in 2014, according to “The State of the Nation 2015” report.

Right now, about 40,000 families depend on coffee for a living, shows figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. The country grows Arabica coffee on a total of 85,000 hectares of land.

Climate change threats have made experts, government agencies, cooperatives and associations of producers work together to save coffee production with the best available technology.

Producers are incorporating new resistant varieties and better fertilization practices as well as using plant trees to generate shade and prevent soil erosion. Trees create microclimate, preventing problems related to high temperatures and improve water filtration.

“Now we come home with plantain, cassava, taro and jocotes. All these are trees that give shade,” told Bienvenido Abarca, a coffee farmer from Llano Bonito to IPS.

Llano Bonito in León Cortés is a chilly mountainous region 175km south-east to San Jose. Coffee farmers have adapted and created a cooperative called Coopellanobonito, which exports premium quality coffee to the US. Other farmers are taking part of a workshop to mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

“The ‘coffee rust’ fungus no longer has a specific time of year, but changes each year, coming earlier or later depending on the weather,” said Abarca, although what he learned in the workshop gave him some cause for optimism.

One of the proposed solutions is a project Elías de Melo, a Brazilian expert on coffee and agroforestry systems at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE), based in Brazil, presented along with the local Café Forestal Foundation.

“We want to set up four pilot farms in this community, to function as outdoor classrooms,” Carlos Jones, the Foundation’s executive director told the producers. The idea is to create four pilot farms in six communities in the country, including Llano Bonito.

The project received 100,000 dollars from the International Adaptation Fund, which finances projects aimed at reducing the effects of climate change in developing countries. Through the same mechanism. Costa Rica has obtained 10 million dollars to use in 30 projects around the country.

Financial support is crucial as plant varieties has a cost of about 8,000 dollars per hectare and trees can take up to three years to produce their first harvest.

Also, specific solutions for each community are needed. A poll carried out by economist Milagro Saborío, who surveyed 300 coffee producing families about climate change for a joint project between CATIE and Conservation International, shows “it’s not possible to devise a single national model.”

Octavio Ramirez from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Costa Rica, agrees with Saborío. “Suits have to be tailor-made, but there are things in common,” he told IPS. FAO is currently working with coffee farmers throughout Central America to help them prevent and cope with coffee fungus.


LatinAmerican Post | Maria Andrea Marquez

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