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Why is “Resilient” Coffee Relevant?

Producer José Aquiles Espinoza holds coffee beans still attached to the plant on his plantation.

LWR has a long history of development programming aimed at building the resilience of vulnerable communities affected by multiple shocks and stressors, such as natural disasters, conflict, and climate change and variability. This blog series, Reflections on Resilience, will examine emerging issues, innovative approaches and new resources in resilience work. It seeks to stimulate learning, reflection and dialogue among development practitioners, researchers and decision-makers interested in the linkages between resilience and development practice. Read part one here.

Coffee is a product that draws people together. It is deeply embedded in the socio-economic and cultural fabric of more than 60 tropical coffee-producing countries1, and is equally significant to coffee drinkers around the world.

From the remote mountain slopes of Nicaragua, Indonesia or Uganda, among many others, coffee farmers constitute the core of a complex value chain that consumers are often unaware of.

That unawareness is slowly starting to change. Increasing climate-related events are shedding new light on the pressures faced by coffee farmers — particularly small-scale farmers — and on their ability to sustain their livelihoods. Rising temperatures, reduced growth, decreased flowering and fruiting due to erratic rainfall patterns, coffee pests and diseases, are among the challenges faced by producers globally2.

In the face of these challenges, the coffee sector must rethink its ability to withstand short-term shocks, and also transform and prepare itself for long-term change. The notion of ‘resilience’ is more relevant than ever before.

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Recent discussions held by a panel of experts3 convened by LWR at the SCAA event held in Seattle this past April provided valuable insights in this regard.

  • Focus not only on surviving, but thriving. That is, the ability of coffee farmers not only to survive the effects of climatic shocks, but to thrive amid long-term change. Examples include strengthening the capacity of producers to identify new market opportunities, and make informed decisions about projected climatic impacts, such as the effects of temperature increase in lower altitudes.
  • Design projects from an all-encompassing supply-chain perspective. Examples include project designs that consider the needs and priorities of farmers, laborers and farmer cooperatives, as well as the role of suppliers, brokers, trade associations, companies/retailers, investors and government stakeholders.
  • Foster knowledge and information sharing by stakeholders at multiple levels. This should include stakeholders at the local, regional and national levels. Examples include the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to facilitate the access and use of technical information at the local level, fostering the linkages between farmers, agricultural extension workers and researchers.
  • Improve equality and inclusion in the coffee supply chain. Examples include activities aimed at ensuring the empowerment of women in coffee production by strengthening their technical skills, their access to credit and information, as well as the creation of opportunities for young people to get engaged in farm activities, slowing down the migration to urban centers.
  • Adopt a socio-ecological perspective to address climate-related challenges, emphasizing the linkages that exist between natural resource management and the sustainability of coffee livelihoods. Examples include initiatives that strengthen the capacity of communities to protect and maintain local resources that are vital for coffee production, such as water sources.

Strengthening individual and institutional capacities, fostering multi-stakeholder knowledge sharing, adopting a system-wide perspective, and ensuring inclusion, are all integral to the achievement of agricultural livelihoods’ resilience.

For the coffee sector, the achievement of more resilient livelihoods is closely linked to the adoption of long-term development goals. As Rick Peyser, LWR’s Senior Relationship Manager, Coffee & Cocoa, stated:

Public- and Private-sector investments in supply chain resilience need to move beyond short-term enhancements in productivity to strengthening supply chains at their foundations (i.e. access to clean water, nutritious food, education, medical care, and much more).

As the impacts of climate change and variability continue to exacerbate, it is vital for the coffee sector to propose and prepare instead of simply react, to innovate and experiment instead of duplicate, to measure and learn instead of repeating past mistakes.

It is vital to translate the increasing risks (climate and non-climate related) into actionable investment opportunities that contribute to strengthening the resilience of those that need it most: the small farmers of the world; the heart of each coffee cup.

Notes:

  1. Ovalle-Rivera O., Läderach, P., Bunn, C., Obersteiner M., Schroth, G. (2015) ‘Projected Shifts in Coffee Arabica Sustainability Among Major Global Producing Regions Due to Climate Change’ PLoS ONE 10(4): e0124155. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124155.
  2. Ramirez et. al. (2012) ‘A Way Forward on Adaptation to Climate Change in Colombian Agriculture: Perspectives Towards 2050’, Climatic Change, 115:611-628.
  3. The event on Resilience Coffee Livelihoods was convened by LWR on April 9th, 2015 in Seattle, U.S. The panel of experts was composed by representatives of Root Capital, CIAT, Green Mountain, COSA and LWR.