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  • Realistically, what can be done?


    It is important to differentiate between mitigation and adaptation, i.e. actions that would help to reduce climate change, and actions that could help coffee growers to adapt to the impact of climate change. That is to say:

    • Coffee production itself contributes to GHG emissions. How can those emissions be reduced? And, how could carbon sinks be increased? *
    • In practical terms, what if anything can coffee growers do to adapt to the effects of climate change?

    It is equally important to appreciate that, collectively, smallholders possess a vast amount of practical farming knowledge and history, meaning they understand what has changed or is changing in their area. The value of this 'human capital' should not be ignored.

    A survey and policy brief published by the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza - CATIE in Costa Rica (www.catie.ac.cr) identifies three main responses by Mesoamerican coffee growers to past crises and ongoing change in the coffee sector: **

    • Changes in agricultural practices, directed at reducing costs, improving soil fertility, or meeting sustainability criteria for new markets.
    • Social organization, necessary for small producers to access new markets, technologies or support programs, and to help farmers recover or respond to global changes.
    • Participation in new marketing strategies, to help them identify and develop the social and environmental value of their products.

    Other responses have included diversification to non-agricultural activities, adopting more profitable crops, decreasing the area dedicated to coffee, lessening labour and input use, and even migration to urban centers or more developed countries.

    Surveys that were conducted ranked five potential areas of intervention as follows:

    • More important: i) changes in agricultural practices and ii) social organization.
    • Important: iii) participation in new marketing strategies.
    • Less important: iv) new economic activities and v) new cash crops.

    In addition to recognizing the value of human capital, i.e. the collective farming knowledge that already exists in the smallholder sector, strategic recommendations include:

    • Improving access to information, including market information, farming technology etc., and developing the ability to interpret such information.
    • Establishing financial mechanisms, including climate insurance, access to micro-credit to facilitate adaptation, i.e. organic, substitute crops, new varieties, shading etc.
    • Investing in social capital, i.e. build structures that enable smallholders to access the resources necessary to adapt to climate change, access new markets and exploit the social and environmental value of their farming activities.

    A number of projects elsewhere in the world have conducted or are conducting similar surveys. The indications are that the results may not be all that different. Examples are given elsewhere in this paper.

    * Carbon sequestration. The process of increasing the carbon content of a carbon reservoir other than the atmosphere. Biological approaches to sequestration include direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through land-use change, afforestation, reforestation, and practices that enhance soil carbon in agriculture. Physical approaches include separation and disposal of carbon dioxide from flue gases or from processing fossil fuels to produce hydrogen- and carbon dioxide-rich fractions and long-term storage in underground in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, coal seams, and saline aquifers. Carbon sink. Any process, activity or mechanism that removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol, or a precursor of a greenhouse gas or aerosol from the atmosphere. Alternatively, carbon sinks are reservoirs that can absorb or 'sequester' carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and include forests, soils, peat, permafrost, ocean water and carbonate deposits in the deep ocean. The most commonly referenced form of carbon sink is that of forests. Plants and trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, retain the carbon component as the building block of plant fiber and release oxygen back into the atmosphere. Therefore, long lived, high biomass plants, such as trees and forests represent effective carbon sinks as long as they are maintained.

    ** September 2009 'Building resilience to global change for coffee farmers in Mesoamerica' by Hallie Eakin, Edwin Castellanos and Jeremy Haggar. NB: Mesoamerica = Central American region and Mexico.
    For an overview visit http://www.catie.ac.cr/BancoMedios/Documentos%20PDF/cafe_politicas_09_ing.pdf