Bridges Project of scarcity to sufficiency : Proyecto Puentes de la escasez a la suficiencia
Alternative technologies to reduce the gap in the ”thin months” in livelihoods of small coffee producers in Central America in the face of climate change
The BRIDGES project was funded by Green Mountain Coffee Roaster Ltd. (GMCR) and conducted by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Within the framework of this project, the impact of climate change on coffee smallholders’ livelihoods was evaluated and alternatives for their families and related organizations and institutions were identified.
The objectives of the research were to determine the climatic suitability for coffee growing (Coffee Arabica) and other potential crops as alternatives for diversification at the local level. Further objectives were to assess the vulnerability of Central American smallholder coffee farmers’ and their families’ livelihoods to climate change, and to establish an inventory of agricultural technologies for coffee families in Nicaragua.
In order to identify the exposure, climate change was modeled using current and future (2050) climate data as input for a crop suitability model (Läderach et al., 2010). Current climate data is based on historical register of meteorological stations (www.worldclim.org). Future climate change predictions were taken from 20 Global Circulation Models recommended by the IPCC. The data of the current climate and of climate change was used as input for MaxEnt (Phillips et al., 2006), a crop prediction model used for modeling coffee suitability and EcoCrop (Hijmans et al., 2005b) used for suitability modeling of other relevant crops. The evidence data used for MaxEnt was collected using Global Positioning Systems. The methodology and results of current and future suitability are published in the final report of “Escenarios del Impacto del Clima Futuro en Areas de Cultivo de Café en Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala” (www.ciat.cgiar.org).
The methodology to identify the vulnerability to climate change was based on the integrated assessment model of the IPCC third assessment report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001), where vulnerability is defined as “a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity” (IPCC, 2007). Exposition was represented by the change in suitability up to 2050. Sensitivity was represented by 9 indicators and adaptive capacity by 11 indicators (Baca et al., 2011) based on the sustainable livelihood approach (DFID, 1999).
Agricultural technologies for the main crops cultivated by the coffee farmers were identified by means of a literature review, expert knowledge, farm visits and participatory workshops with technicians and producers in Nicaragua.
According to the prediction of the MaxEnt model, suitability of coffee growing regions in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador will be reduced towards 2050, with the highest decrease in El Salvador. However, suitability was not predicted to decrease in all coffee growing regions. Furthermore, farms located at lower altitudes (600 – 1000 masl) will have a higher decrease in suitability, while in growing regions at higher altitudes (1200 – 1800) suitability will increase.
Other potential crops such as corn, beans, citrus, tomatoes, bananas, cocoa, avocado, mango or sorghum will gain, loose or maintain suitability by 2050. Depending on the geographic location and the local environmental conditions, the family farms will have alternatives to diversify their system and change their crops.
High vulnerability was identified in 6% of families in Nicaragua, 55% of families in El Salvador and 24% of families in Guatemala. In Honduras, families did not have high vulnerability. In general, families have high vulnerability when their farms are located in areas where coffee will lose suitability by 2050, are highly or moderately sensitive to the variability of coffee production, and have low adaptive capacity for viability of post-harvest infrastructure through forms of drying. When families showed high variability in coffee production, their annual income was reduced and some families reduced their daily diet. In other cases, some members of the household migrated to other regions of the country to look for work and improve household income. Additionally, the lack of infrastructure for post-harvest drying diminishes coffee quality in areas with high humidity and oftentimes families decide to sell the berries or wet parchment to avoid deteriorating the coffee, thus reducing their annual income.
Identified agricultural technologies included practices that have been in use for 20 years and some practices that have been introduced with the adoption of organic production systems. In traditional coffee plantations plant densities were lower, but productivity was still good. Furthermore, there were only few problems of pests and diseases. Today, the tall-growing varieties such as Typica and Bourbon have been replaced by low-growing varieties, mainly Caturra, and pests and diseases have to be treated with pesticides.
Today´s coffee plantations are agroforestry systems with native and introduced tree species providing shadow. In traditional farming systems, biodiversity of native and introduced species is still maintained, in contrast to commercial cropping system where the incorporated trees are of only one species (usually Inga spp).
The assessment of climatic suitability to grow coffee and alternative crops, the vulnerability analysis and the identification of valuable agricultural practices allows for an understanding of the differences of observed livelihoods and in the management of production systems in every region. It is necessary to appropriately apply the developed management strategies in order to reduce negative impacts caused by variations in annual coffee yields and climate change.
In regions where coffee will lose suitability, it is essential to consider alternative crops for diversification, in order to ensure the sustainability of production systems and food security of families. However new crops and varieties to be implemented in the future need to be selected in accordance with available resources of families, their geographical location and the cost-benefit ratio, to achieve the adoption of the new system and in order to benefit the families.
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