Climate and Coffee: Very tough years ahead

Photo by By Russ-L, Flickr (

Photo by By Russ-L, Flickr

Coffee, like most crops, will suffer (and in fact has already suffered) greatly from climate change. Temperature changes, increasing or decreasing rain with sporadic downpours, varying lengths of seasons… Needless to say, high quality, highly vulnerable Arabica coffee will not simply grow effortlessly on the rolling hills of a finca.

Growing coffee today is harder than it has been for most of the recent past, yet it could be as easy as it will get if we think about the near future and the changing climate that comes with it. Rust can ruin an entire crop. Too much rain can cause devastating soil erosion. Shorter and longer seasons alter the essential processes that give us those complex, addicting flavor notes of a good cup of coffee. And how about the people who grow our coffee? Coffee farmers face shrinking incomes, which only diminishes their capacity to adapt.
It’s not all bad news, of course. There are ways to use these challenges as opportunities to go back and think about the richness of our ecosystems.  Ecosystem services, and the payments that can accompany those services, are becoming the capital that allow farmers to not only protect the natural resources around them, but also to invest in the knowledge and infrastructure that increases the resilience of their crops. What this means is that we are taking a step back, and ceasing to take the valuable contributions of our ecosystems for granted. It’s exciting and intriguing to think about what will happen when we do so, and how introducing markets to “nature” in this way will alter our relationship with it. Lots more to say and reflect on that.

Here are some musings from around the web on coffee, climate, and adaptation:

– Is there enough collaborative research on coffee’s adaptation future? Unfortunately, no. 

– Can we envision a world without coffee when we drink about 1.6 billion cups of the stuff every single day? Hopefully we don’t have to, but changes to the plant and how it’s grown seem inevitable. For one, wild Arabica coffee plants might become extinct by 2080.

– Coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico are innovating! They’ve experienced lots of unpredictable rain, which is often damaging the coffee as it dries outdoors. Solution? Solar coffee dryers, which are being piloted by CESMACH.

– I think it’s essential to train coffee farmers to adapt to climate change. GTZ agrees, and has a very impressive training manual (in Spanish) that I’m looking through for inspiration and guidance.

– Beautiful photography and moving insight from Colombian coffee farmers in this video (Spanish):

Subiendo Dos Grados – cambio climático y cafe en Colombia

Farmer Training


Ecosystem Based Climate Adaptation


When we think about adapting to climate change, it is clear that what we need is all encompassing. As a friend of mine– an expert in the adaptation world– put it, the age of “stand-alone adaptation” is over. Our solutions to the challenges of climate change must engage citizens, governments, ecosystems, and every system in between.

So who’s thinking about these sorts of approaches? What are they doing, and what is working? If you think about those questions, or find them worthy of dedicated exploration, you’re reading the right blog. The hope for this page is to feature what is happening in a rapidly growing field of climate adaptation.

Today’s featured player: The Ecosystem Based Adaptation Programme

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EbA) as “the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change”. Based on this definition, the work of the EBA Programme is informed by synergies that exist between the ecological services of a community, and the communities’ social and other resources. In their words, “EBA uses sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems, taking into account anticipated climate change impact trends, to reduce the vulnerability and improve the resilience of ecosystems and people to climate change impacts.”

The Ecosystem Based Adaptation Programme is sponsored by UNDP, UNEP, IUCA, and BMU. They currently work on enhancing the resilience of ecosystems and people in six distinct areas:

And here, they make the case for EbA. Lots to learn, and many important lessons from their attempts to thoughtfully engage in capacity building aimed at key actors in the various communities they work with.

There will be many more of these quick links to various projects in the days to come. It’s about time for my scattered compilations of adaptation initiatives to find a home!

A blog to compile exciting climate adaptation projects, ideas, and news–

Colombian Coffee Farmer in Pereira, Colombia

Colombian Coffee Farmer in Pereira, Risaralda

In the coming weeks and months, I hope to create a space for the most interesting, thoughtful and promising initiatives to adapt our systems, be they human or environmental, to climate change. It is not written with a large (if any) audience in mind. Instead, it hopes to be a modest effort to compile those stories and projects that give us hope and inspire us to continue to reimagine how to adapt to a changing world.