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  • What are the priorities?


    Smallholders are amongst the most vulnerable groups when it comes to the potential impact of climate change. Smallholders also produce the majority of the world's coffee but for many their ability to adapt to climate change is limited by insufficient or no access to the resources and technical assistance that this requires. This is not to suggest that all such resources have been identified, far from it, but what is clear is that the coffee industry cannot afford severely reducing smallholder production, neither in terms of quantity nor in terms of quality and quality diversity. This therefore confirms the need for concerted industry-wide initiatives. But how?*

    Not all views on how to go forward concur but it would seem reasonable to argue that there are three main areas for action to be undertaken.**

    • Short-term technical solutions for adapting coffee production and processing to current climate variability, aimed at producers;
    • Measures to reduce GHG and so contribute to climate protection and carbon credit generation, aimed at all participants in the value chain;
    • Long-term strategies to improve framework conditions for adaptation to future climate risks, and to build the necessary capacities - aimed at all in the value chain but, mostly, producers;


    Short term technical solutions will vary from country to country and between areas in a single coffee producing country. Farmers are already experiencing climate change, they know their circumstances better than anyone and many have innovative ideas on how to combat at least some of the effects. In other words, of course external assistance is needed but to be successful it should combine with local stakeholders to jointly develop adaptation and mitigation processes.

    Measures to reduce GHG are equally important but it is proving difficult for farmers to gain carbon offset credits, mostly because projects to reduce GHG emissions must demonstrate their additionality. That is to say, they must show an additional/added value effect in the GHG scenario. Under this concept coffee farms have to prove that they create GHG savings that are additional to anything that might happen anyway. Ironically, it is technically probably easier for other partners in the value chain to generate carbon offsets than it is for the grower. This is demonstrated by the fact that to date agri-based offsets are not widespread.

    Long-term strategies at the production level are essential and require major industry support and supporting legislation. Many of these are identified and discussed in the ICO's paper on 'Coffee and climate change' and it is beyond the scope of the Coffee Guide to discuss these in more detail. Suffice it here to add that the March 2009 Coffee Issues Management Forum (organised by the National Coffee Association of the USA) identified producer sustainability as the prime priority issue with adaptation to climate change listed as the most important sub-issue under this heading…

    In the meantime however coffee producers require mostly short-term solutions to try and help them cope as things move along in the world of climate…

    To a limited extent, progress towards mitigating the effects of climate change is of course assisted by adhering to Good Agricultural Practices or GAP, further aligned to coffee production through observance of one or more of the different certification or verification standards that are active. But, it is of course obvious that climate change itself cannot be adequately addressed at the individual farm level.

    The reduction and trapping of GHG by coffee growers will very likely, if not automatically, also help towards mitigating at least some of the effects of climate change they are already experiencing.

    And whilst it is not possible to 'sell coffee or shade trees', it is possible to work towards producing carbon credits that can be traded, either through the mandatory CDM process, or through voluntary arrangements. For individual smallholders though CDM type coffee carbon credits may be very difficult to achieve. For them the better route is probably through 'umbrella projects' that encompass larger areas and take a holistic approach to the issue. This is further discussed in section 4 of this chapter.

    * This brief discussion is limited to the coffee sector and as such no reference will be made to the debate between industrialised and developing countries on Climate Change.
    ** Quote adapted from 'Adaptation for Smallholders to Climate Change' by Mario Donga and Kathleen Jährmann - http://www.adapcc.org/en/downloads.htm - a joint project of Cafédirect and German Technical Cooperation - GTZ.