Fair Trade Coffee’s Climate Change

April 13, 2015

Dolores Calero is one of thousands of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Fair Trade farmers in Nicaragua. In 2007, I interviewed Dolores for my book Solidarity Will Transform the World. In sharing her story, I explained how Fair Trade coffee changed Dolores’ life, raising her family out of poverty and building peace in the Matagalpa coffee growing region among former Contras and Sandinistas. Today, everything Dolores has built over the past decade is now under threat from a source even more threatening than a Cold War proxy conflict—climate change.

The Guardian and other news outlets have pointed out that the highest quality coffee beans—arabica—grow only under specific conditions. As local climates change, a combination of rising temperatures and new diseases can make it impossible to grow coffee on a Fair Trade farmer’s land. Some experts predict that coffee production in countries like Uganda will become impossible by 2025, eliminating an important tool in the fight against extreme poverty

In Latin America, CRS estimates that the optimal altitude for coffee growing will rise from 4,000 feet to 4,600 feet by 2020 and 5,300 feet by 2050. For most Fair Trade coffee producers, this shift will either displace them from coffee production altogether or at the very least, significantly curtail their yield of coffee beans. A third of Latin America’s current coffee lands will be unsuitable for coffee cultivation by 2050, according to CRS and its research partner, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Photo and graphic courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

Photo and graphic courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

CRS continues to not only advocate for public policies that will mitigate the effects of climate change, but also provide an immediate response, helping farmers to plant shade trees, which lower the temperature of the air surrounding coffee plants , and to diversify crops, introduce drought resistant varieties of coffee, and install irrigation systems. Farmers like Dolores remain optimistic, but her determination must be combined with a resolve among governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if iconic mountain-grown Latin American Fair Trade coffee is to endure.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 6.58.12 PMWritten by Jeff Korgen, GreenFaith, Campaign Advisor and Founding Member of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM).