Coffee Farmers Adapt to Climate Change

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    Increasing temperatures pose a threat to coffee producers across Central America and in Nicaragua.

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    The cultivation of shade grown coffee is an effective carbon sink that plays an important role in Nicaraguan livelihoods.

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    75–80% of the coffee produced worldwide is Arabica.

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    A coffee bean is the seed of the coffee plant. It is the pit inside the red fruit. The fruits contain two stones with their flat sides together.

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    Coffee fruits affected by a fungus known as leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix).

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    Replacing current coffee plants with improved varieties requires a high level of initial investment.

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    4 layer system: coffee trees, banana and fruit trees as wells as native shade trees.

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    Butterfly in banana plant. The project provides a biodiverse wildlife.

This project helps small holder coffee farmers – who are particularly affected by climate change – adapt and improve their income while supporting the economic sustainability of the coffee industry in Nicaragua. The combined planting of disease resistant coffee plants with other multifunctional trees strengthens the ecological resilience of the farming system, diversifies income streams while reducing CO2 and increasing wildlife habitat.

The cultivation of shade grown coffee plays an important role in Nicaraguan livelihoods. However, warmer temperatures associated with climate change have facilitated an ongoing outbreak of a fungus known as leaf rust. This phenomenon is now threatening the income of millions who depend on the coffee industry across Central America and in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The disease causes coffee leaves to fall prematurely, reducing crops by 10-40 per cent. However, the majority of coffee farmers cannot afford to switch to disease resistant varieties. Not only does replacement of current coffee plants with improved varieties require a high level of initial investment – farmers must also wait several years before the new plants mature and begin producing crops.

Payments to small farmers for planting new coffee trees encourages the establishment of new coffee agroforestry systems at higher elevations where temperatures are cooler and therefore less sensitive to rust attacks. Furthermore, the project provides technical training on the best coffee management practices to increase crops and control pests and diseases in the region including the transition away from agro-chemicals towards organic products. Additionally, farmers gain improved market access so that they receive a higher price for their coffee.

The coffee agroforestry model consists of a 4 layer system which helps to prevent the outbreak of the fungus, isolates large amounts of CO2 and provides a diverse wildlife habitat. Furthermore, it reduces soil erosion, floodings and droughts and improves the soil fertility. Besides the ecological benefits the project also ensures an additional source of income through fuelwood and fruit trees, encourages women to participate in the community recruiting meetings and promotes the use of the carbon finance payments for school fees and uniforms.

The project is located in the highlands of Nicaragua, San Juan de Rio Coco – on 500 hectares of degraded land – in a region, which in principle is well suited for growing arabica coffee. Still, it was the most affected municipality in Nicaragua after a widespread outbreak of leaf rust a few years ago. The exact location of each farm reforested is pinpointed using GPS technology and is visible on Google Maps where one can see which farmer planted how many trees. The reforested farms get monitored annually to make sure that the trees are growing according to schedule. Using this information, payments to farmers are calculated and any tree mortality is replanted. The project is under the plan vivo standard and independently third party certified by the Rainforest Alliance. 

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