Synergies between climate change adaptation and mitigation in coffee production
Many studies have shown the particular vulnerability of coffee to climate change. This is due to its sensitivity to temperature changes and its specific requirements of rainfall patterns (coffee under pressure CUP, Mesoamerican Coffee policy brief). Furthermore, its perennial nature makes it very difficult for farmers to adapt to changes in market conditions or the environment, since investments in coffee production today may not come to fruition until 10-15 years later. Therefore, adaptation strategies are crucial and have to be carefully planned. Considering that more than 70% of all coffee producers worldwide are smallholding farmers growing on lots smaller than 10 hectares each, the question arises how this transition will occur when no resources are available to them? While adaptation to climate change is unavoidable, continued efforts for mitigating climate change, i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the first place and/or sequestering CO2 in vegetation, soil, or other medias, is critical. Governments and companies worldwide are investing a lot of money in mitigating the greenhouse gases related to economic activities.
Recently, the focus of many research activities has been directed to investigating the relationships between adaptation and mitigation. The interest in agriculture is straightforward. Agriculture is one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases and at the same time one of the most affected by climate change. Synergies between adaptation and mitigation have been found particularly evident in agroforestry systems (e.g. coffee, cocoa, livestock). Shade trees can buffer climate extremes (e.g. heavy winds, rainfall, etc.) and temperature increases while at the same time sequester carbon. Furthermore, agroforestry systems compared to systems without incorporating trees, contribute to additional ecosystem services such as biodiversity, and are thought to improve livelihood benefits (e.g. fruits and firewood from shade trees). But, although this seems very promising, relevant trade-offs are present which often hinder the adoption of such systems. Trade-offs might arise on the farm scale through lower productivity with increasing tree incorporation. On a landscape scale, trade-offs can be related to carbon sequestration; if agroforestry systems are implemented on the cost of forests, net carbon sequestration might be negative.
A newly published study (Rahn et al. 2013) developed a first approach to identifying synergies between adaptation, mitigation and livelihood benefits in coffee production in Northern Nicaragua. Collaboration between different relevant stakeholders (private sector, certification bodies, NGO’s, research, coffee farmers and cooperatives) aimed at identifying practices and strategies to enable a sustainable transition for smallholders to adapt to climate change. Furthermore possibilities were explored to provide the needed resources directly from within the supply chain with mutual benefits for everyone involved (PB shared value). There seems to be a lot of optimism although in practice there are still many issues to be clarified. There is a need to fully understand all related trade-offs and synergies. For this purpose, a methodological framework is needed that considers all relevant factors on different scales and enables a user-friendly evaluation for the private sector and certification bodies interested in climate-smart agricultural production.
Therefore, different master thesis are currently conducted on this topic and a big research project by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) (3 Phd sub-projects) on identifying production technologies enabling adaptation of vulnerable coffee/cocoa-based farming systems to climate change that combine improving farmer income and system resilience with contributing to climate change mitigation is in its starting phase. The aim is to contribute to filling the research gaps described above. This is to better understand trade-offs and synergies between climate change adaptation, mitigation and livelihood needs and provide stakeholders with a methodological framework to assess the potential of various production technologies. The project will be conducted in four different countries of West and East Africa.