Coffee Farmers Struggle To Adapt To Colombia's Changing Climate

Coffee Farmers Struggle To Adapt To Colombia's Changing Climate
The fertile, mountainous terrain of Colombia’s coffee-producing central region is vulnerable to climate change impacts such as stronger storms and hotter temperatures. Eddy Milfort/flickr, CC BY-SA

In Colombia’s coffee-producing region of Risaralda, small trees run along the sharp incline of the Andes Mountains, carefully tended in tidy rows. Thousands of green coffee berries turn brilliant red as they ripen, ready to be harvested by hand. The steep hills here prevent mechanized techniques.

Its unique geography makes Colombia one of the world’s greatest coffee-producing nations, selling US$2.64 billion of mild, high-altitude Arabica beans to countries around the world each year. Only Brazil and Vietnam export more coffee.

Despite their global reach, coffee farms in Colombia are generally family-owned and modest in size – perhaps 5 to 12 acres.

These fertile mountains already face weather-related risks, such as mudslides and erosion. Now, the country’s coffee region is increasingly vulnerable to climate change-induced disasters like flooding, drought and invasive pests.

For the country’s 300,000 coffee producers, these extreme weather threats – coupled with the increasingly unpredictable seasons, crop disease and invasive insects associated with climate change – endanger their livelihoods.

Farmers see the changes around them

Our research team went to Colombia in early 2018 to talk with the coffee farmers of Risaralda about how they are adapting to climate change.

We asked 45 farmers questions that tapped into the farmers’ own conceptualization of climate change, such as “What is climate change?” and “How, if at all, has climate change affected you as a farmer?”

The results were stark.

Over 90 percent of the coffee farmers reported changes in average temperature. Seventy-four percent said droughts had gotten longer and worse, and 61 percent reported an increase in mountainside erosion and landslides because of more rain.

The farmers also perceived impacts of these environmental changes on their crops. Ninety-one percent reported changes in the flowering and fruiting cycles of the coffee plants. Seventy-five percent had noticed an increase in pests, and 59 percent reported an increase in crop disease.

These changes have created uncertainty about previously routine farming decisions.

Because the planting and harvesting seasons are no longer regular or predictable, for example, many farmers cannot rely on traditional seasonal indicators to guide them about the right time to plant, harvest or tend to their coffee crops.

Organizing labor to pick the coffee beans has also become a struggle because the trees often do not flower at the same time due to unstable seasonal conditions. New Colombian labor laws meant to decrease child labor make finding farmhands difficult, compounding the problem.

In short, the farmers saw climate change as nothing less than an existential threat.

“Our ability to counteract the effects of climate change is minimal,” one farmer told us. “It is a threat capable of greatly incapacitating us. So we must be very attentive to the little we can do to mitigate.”

Growing coffee in today’s climate

From 2008 to 2013, Colombia’s coffee production dropped approximately 33 percent due to the El Niño and La Niña inclement weather patterns, when rains, clouds and hot spells all increased.

The country has worked to increase its production since then, and this year Colombian coffee farmers are expected to produce 13.3 million bags of coffee beans – roughly 1.8 billion pounds – up about 23 percent from 2013 levels.

But they’re still short of the national production goals of 14.7 million bags, a shortfall the Colombian National Coffee Federation has attributed to excessive rain and cloudiness.

Even before climate change endangered their crop, Colombian coffee farmers were already operating on a very slim profit margin.

Most producers sell their coffee to the Colombian National Coffee Federation, a nonprofit cooperative founded in 1927 to represent Colombia’s coffee farmers nationally and internationally. It values Colombia’s coffee exports using a price scale tied to the New York Stock Exchange.

Since that price fluctuates daily, it is difficult to calculate an individual farmer’s exact income or losses, but most small farmers in Colombia barely break even.

Under such circumstances, even one crop failure can devastate the family farm.

Farmers struggle to adapt

To adapt to Colombia’s changing climate, some farmers have begun experimenting with new farming techniques they think might help offset its impacts.

Roughly one-third of the farmers we interviewed had planted trees on their farms to shade coffee plants during hot spells and to prevent soil erosion during big storms. Others were building water tanks to collect rainwater during droughts.

Some coffee farmers had also diversified their crops, adding banana and avocados trees to their farms to reduce the risks of any one crop’s failed harvest.

Risaralda has a unique geography that is perfect for coffee production but vulnerable to climate change.
Risaralda has a unique geography that is perfect for coffee production but vulnerable to climate change.
Natalie White

But fully one-third of all the coffee producers we spoke with – 14 of our interviewees – are still farming as their families have for centuries.

They’re not unconcerned about the environmental changes affecting their farms. Yet time pressures and lack of resources give them little choice but to focus on short-term demands like making payroll, paying debts and keeping food on the table.

Keeping Colombia’s coffee industry alive

Climate-related production challenges are a concern not just for the farmers we interviewed but also for Colombia’s economy.

Coffee is the South American country’s most important agricultural export, representing 31 percent of all agricultural trade. The industry is worth around $1.97 billion a year and employs an estimated 800,000 people.

Other developing countries where the coffee industry is being hit hard by climate change, such as Brazil and Tanzania, have tried some successful adaptation strategies. These include introducing new varieties of coffee beans, improving soil and water management and increasing access to loans and other financial services to help farmers weather failed crops or invest in new technologies.

Research shows that teaching people to farm in a new and unpredictable environment requires a detailed understanding of how a given population is vulnerable to climate change now and in the future. That means asking farmers what they think and feel about what’s happening to design contingency plans that will actually work for them.

That was the work we began to do in Risaralda. We hope our findings can help the Colombian government work with farmers to help them adapt their farming practices for a future of more extreme, unpredictable weather.

Farming in the face of climate change involves grappling with many complicated economic, informational, labor and business problems. Colombian coffee farmers want to succeed, but they’ll need help in all of these areas just to survive.

About The Author

Jessica Eise, Ross Fellow in the Brian Lamb School of Communication Doctoral Program, Purdue University and Natalie White, Assistant Professor of Communication, Purdue University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Books by Jessica Eise

List Price: $11.95
Price: $11.95
Product Description:

A captivating sci-fi novel of one woman's battle to survive against all odds.

“TOTALLY UNEXPECTED AND BLEW MY MIND… TOUCHED ME IN WAYS FEW BOOKS HAVE.” – Goodreads Reviewer

“GRABBED ME FROM THE VERY BEGINNING AND DID NOT LET GO.” – Goodreads Reviewer

“AN ENGROSSING TIME TRAVEL TALE.” – Goodreads Reviewer

“A FANTASTIC WORK OF SCIENCE FICTION... A CAPTIVATING STORY LINE.” – Goodreads Reviewer

On a brisk fall morning while out for a jog, Renee blacks out and disappears without a trace. One millennium in the future, a team of scientists stare in horror at the bloodied corpse that materializes in their lab. Breaking the trance, an assistant darts forward to scan the body's oxygen levels. "It's alive!" she yells desperately. Stunned by their discovery, the team fights to keep her alive. Yet their fragile guest begins to awaken genetic memories they had long forgotten, setting in motion an unstoppable chain of events.






Product Description: Fleeing government persecution, Renee and her band of scientists escape to the last free place on earth – Continent 7.

Yet when unknown forces attack, the team must ally with Continent 7’s mysterious defense militia, known only as the Legion. Targeted by the enemy, Renee runs to the jungle with an allied Legionnaire and a mind-reader. The three form an unlikely but scrappy gang of outcasts who will do anything to keep each other safe.

Meanwhile, back at the capital, the rest of the team fights desperately to uncover the conspiracy against them. As the truth unravels and an unlikely enemy revealed, they learn that far more is at stake than their lives – and they must decide how far they are willing to go to save not only each other, but society itself.



List Price: $30.00
Price: $30.00
Product Description:
By 2050, we will have ten billion mouths to feed in a world profoundly altered by environmental change. How can we meet this challenge? In How to Feed the World, a diverse group of experts from Purdue University break down this crucial question by tackling big issues one-by-one. Covering population, water, land, climate change, technology, food systems, trade, food waste and loss, health, social buy-in, communication, and, lastly, the ultimate challenge of achieving equal access to food, the book reveals a complex web of factors that must be addressed in order to reach global food security.

How to Feed the World unites contributors from different perspectives and academic disciplines, ranging from agronomy and hydrology to agricultural economy and communication. Hailing from Germany, the Philippines, the U.S., Ecuador, and beyond, the contributors weave their own life experiences into their chapters, connecting global issues to our tangible, day-to-day existence. Across every chapter, a similar theme emerges: these are not simple problems, yet we can overcome them. Doing so will require cooperation between farmers, scientists, policy makers, consumers, and many others.

The resulting collection is an accessible but wide-ranging look at the modern food system. Readers will not only get a solid grounding in key issues, but be challenged to investigate further and contribute to the paramount effort to feed the world.



The Conversation

English Afrikaans Arabic Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Dutch Filipino French German Hindi Indonesian Italian Japanese Korean Malay Persian Portuguese Russian Spanish Swahili Swedish Thai Turkish Urdu Vietnamese

LATEST VIDEOS

Jay Inslee Tells Hayes That He Wants To Gut The Filibuster To Fight Climate Change
by MSNBC
Washington Governor Jay Inslee is running for president on the single issue of climate change and argues that doing…
Causes and Effects of Climate Change
by National Geographic
What causes climate change (also known as global warming)? And what are the effects of climate change? Learn the human…
Extreme Weather and Global Warming
by NASA Goddard
Is the frequency of extreme weather events a sign that global warming is gaining pace and exceeding predictions? Bill…
Thanks to Climate Change, Wet Winters No Match for Drier California Summers
by KPIX CBS SF Bay Area
If the emerald-green hills around Northern California have you thinking recent rains have put a damper on the fire…
Climate Change Is Not One Issue
by MSNBC
"Climate change is not one issue," said David Wallace-Wells, author of "The Uninhabitable Earth," but is…
The Heat: Climate change
by CGTN America
Images gathered by NASA show an increase in foliage in China and India. The greening effect is mainly due to ambitious…
No company is doing enough to combat climate change: Jeremy Grantham
by CNBC Television
Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of GMO, on climate change and what needs to be done to combat it.
Power Plants Are POISONING Groundwater All Over America
by The Ring of Fire
According to a new report, 90% of coal-fired power plants across the country have completely contaminated the…

LATEST ARTICLES

Default Image
Come on, UK weather forecasters – tell it like it is on climate change
by Adam Corner
They have a national reach that most climate campaigners would die for. They are familiar and respected experts on the…
Green New Deal: 6 places already reducing emissions from buildings
Green New Deal: 6 places already reducing emissions from buildings
by David Roberts
One of the elements of the Green New Deal resolution that has caused the most consternation among critics on the right…
Default Image
UK environmentalists target Barclays in fossil fuels campaign
by Matthew Taylor
A UK-wide campaign is being launched to persuade one of the country’s biggest high street banks to stop investing…
Oceanic carbon uptake could falter
Oceanic carbon uptake could falter
by Tim Radford
What does oceanic carbon uptake achieve? Greenhouse gas that sinks below the waves slows global warming a little and…
Britain (Yes, Rainy Britain) Could Run Short of Water by 2050, Official Says
Britain (Yes, Rainy Britain) Could Run Short of Water by 2050, Official Says
by Global Warming & Climate Change
“Climate change plus growth equals an existential threat,” Mr. Bevan said. To avoid severe water shortages, he added,…
Default Image
Record high US temperatures outpace record lows two to one, study finds
by Associated Press
Over the past 20 years, Americans have been twice as likely to sweat through record-breaking heat rather than shiver…
Climate change: Water shortages in England 'within 25 years'
Climate change: Water shortages in England 'within 25 years'
by BBC News - Science & Environment
Image copyright PA Image caption Low water levels at Wayoh Reservoir near Bolton in the UK heatwave in July 2018 Within…
Default Image
Why you'll never meet a white supremacist who cares about climate change
by Rebecca Solnit
As the news of the Christchurch mosque massacre broke and I scoured the news, I came across a map showing that the…