The warming world brewing behind that hot cup of coffee

With coffee cherries ripening on trees across the lush Sierra Madre foothills, hundreds of coffee farmers streamed into a festively-painted coffee collection center in the town of Ángel Albino Corzo, in Chiapas, Mexico last month. Sporting cowboy hats and machetes, the smell of wood smoke clinging to their blue jeans, they crowded into the cement warehouse—not to deliver their harvests, but to talk with scientists and value-chain partners about climate change, or cambio climático, as it’s called in Latin America.

It was the second annual forum on coffee and climate change, organized by three coffee cooperatives with over 800 members, farming in the buffer zone of the biodiversity hotspot, El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico.

Expectations may have been low for progress at the recent international climate talks in Doha, but coffee farmers aren’t waiting for world leaders to act. They’re taking matters into their own hands.

The objectives of their forum were to further engage with experts to better understand what is happening to their world, to raise awareness among younger farmers, and to seek assistance from value chain partners as they struggle to adapt to climate change impacts like erratic rainfall and debilitating outbreaks of fungal diseases, like coffee rust, or insects like the coffee berry borer.

Alberto Velazquez, president of Triunfo Verde, one of the three cooperatives behind the forum, summarized what many farmers are experiencing. “I have been growing coffee for over 30 years now and I have seen the changes. Before we wouldn’t begin harvesting coffee until January or February and now we start harvesting in November. Every year it gets hotter and hotter. And now, when the rain comes, it doesn’t come over several months. It comes for a short while like a storm, like a hurricane sometimes, and it affects the quality of the fruit.”

Mesoamerican coffee farmers face an uncertain future with scientists estimating that 30 percent of coffee lands could become too hot to produce in a matter of decades. The World Bank’s new report, Turn Down the Heat, painted an equally dire picture about what 4 degrees of warming will look like for global food production.

The coffee farmers’ forum was, in essence, a pragmatic call to action from the grassroots up. As my colleague, Bety Ocampo, who spoke at the forum, observed, “Growers understand that climate change can directly impact their ability to earn a living and they’re approaching it in a very conscious and responsible manner. They are ready to adapt.”

And they’re coming up with their own solutions.

Next page: An environmental insurance fund