Coffee, Sustainability, and Climate Change: Solutions

By Colleen Luckett

Note: This blog is part two in a two-part series about how climate change is affecting the coffee industry and what the industry is doing to counteract these challenges.

In the first part of this two-part series, we looked at dangers the coffee industry is facing from climate change. The industry isn’t taking it lying down and, in fact, specialty coffee companies are the hipsters of the marketplace: they were talking about sustainability long before it was “cool.” In the mid-1990s, coffee companies came together with NGOs and research institutions to address issues such as shade-grown coffee, organic strains, and fair trade. The First Sustainable Coffee Congress at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center took place in 1996. And four years later, environmentalist Paul Hawken, in his keynote address at the 2000 Sustainable Coffee Conference in San Francisco, noted that he’d never seen an industry take on sustainability so honestly and holistically.

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Now, as mentioned in our previous blog, the industry faces new challenges, and questions have started to arise, such as are we addressing current and future issues or are we still stuck in mindsets of 15 years ago? What are key issues and how do we prioritize them? What would the right approaches look like? Should we be coordinating our efforts and measuring impact? Are we just going to talk a big game or make a real difference?

Making environment for coffee cozy may depend on forests

Good planning now could help farmers adapt in the future, enabling some to maintain their coffee plants while giving others, in less suitable areas, time to shift to other crops. And hope comes in the form of forests.  Most areas suitable for coffee crops are within 1,600 meters of forests. That’s a strong argument for maintaining landscapes that combine forest and agriculture.

And keeping bees up our coffee sleeves

One tiny insect’s positive effect on forests seems to fly under the radar (awful pun intended). That insect is your friendly neighborhood bee. A new study suggests that bees give coffee plants a boost in pollination. As the number of bee species — called “species richness” — found on a coffee farm increases, so does the farm’s productivity.

 Deforestation destroys bee colonies that are vital to coffee production. Forests allow bees to nest in trees and survive year-round.

Deforestation destroys bee colonies that are vital to coffee production. Forests allow bees to nest in trees and survive year-round.

Pablo Imbach, a climate and ecosystems scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), explains: “In order to attract bees when the coffee is flowering, you need bee communities to be around the whole year. The way to increase productivity is to have forests close to coffee plantations, so bees can nest in trees and survive all year.” Although studies show that greater richness of bee species increases coffee productivity, scientists still don’t know enough about the relationship between coffee and pollinators to make precise predictions. Imbach says "We need more research on agricultural management to help farmers mitigate the effects of climate change, not just on crops, but also on ecosystem services.”Less rainfall will make coffee-production water scarce, demand new methods

Less rainfall will make coffee-production water scarce, demand new methods

 Wet milling of Arabica coffee beans uses a lot of water that will become precious for drinking, livestock, and food-crop irrigation as climate change affects rainfall and drought.

Wet milling of Arabica coffee beans uses a lot of water that will become precious for drinking, livestock, and food-crop irrigation as climate change affects rainfall and drought.

Water scarcity is also an increasingly critical challenge due to climate change. Washed arabicas are 85 percent of the specialty coffee market, but water scarcity calls into question the wet milling process, a water-intensive processing method by which this majority of specialty coffee is produced.  With increasing demand for drinking water and livestock and food crop irrigation for local communities, how will this method of coffee production be sustainable?

Nestlé, for one, has already begun addressing this question in Ethiopia, one of the most arid coffee producing countries. According to Nestlé’s website, “Nestlé promoted and financed the installation and operation of an eco-friendly processing facility in Kochere Woreda. The new technology uses only six liters of water per kilogram of green coffee . . . a 96-percent reduction of water use.

Fairtrade premium: coffee farmers' cozy bonuses fight climate change 

Fairtrade International is taking an active approach to climate change in the coffee industry by using their Fairtrade premium, an added sum farmers can spend on business or community improvements. Farmers must allocate at least 25% of the premium to boost productivity and quality — for example by investing in processing facilities or in organic farming. In 2012-13, Fairtrade coffee farmer organizations received over $49.3 million in Fairtrade Premium. Fairtrade International has used this money for projects supporting ecological water management, controlling pests and diseases, preventing soil erosion, and reforestation and diversification. You can read more about these projects and case studies in Fairtrade International’s Climate Change: Fairtrade Coffee report.

Koffee Kompanions' reusable coffee cup wrap supports ecology  

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These are just a few ways the coffee industry is addressing climate change. Here at Koffee Kompanions, we recommend buying fair trade coffee and a reusable Kup Kollar coffee cup wrap to help keep your drinks hotter or colder (and protect your hands!). So, tell us in the comments: how can your coffee-drinking habits ward off climate change? Even little actions foster big changes for our planet!

 

Resources:

Barbara Fraser, https://dailycoffeenews.com/2018/01/08/new-study-says-coffee-facing-climate-change-needs-more-trees-and-bees/

Fairtrade International, "Climate Change: Fairtrade Coffee," https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/~/media/FairtradeUK/What%20is%20Fairtrade/Documents/Fairtrade%20and%20sustainability/Climate%20change%20%20Fairtrade%20coffee.pdf

 
Perry LuckettComment