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Impact of climate change on Colombia’s coffee farmers

Impact of climate change on Colombia’s coffee farmers

The livelihoods of many small independent coffee farmers in Colombia are being threatened by climate change.  

These impacts are intensifying at a rate never seen before by the local farming communities, who generally are very resilient to the uncertainties within agriculture.

The area where the coffee is being grown, in the Colombian mountain regions, is warming by 0.3 oC per decade, according to a recent study. 

Additionally, the total sunlight hours have declined by 19%, since the middle of the last century. This is a result of the increasing cloud cover, meaning that there is no longer enough sun to sustain the high levels of coffee production in certain areas. 

Precipitation is harder to predict, but it is generally thought that Colombia is getting wetter and that this extra rain is falling in heavier downpours. 

Coffee trees are sensitive to small changes in the weather, which then alters their flowering and ripening cycle. The optimal conditions are that of a warm spring-like day and cool nights

These impacts have resulted in the optimal locations for the coffee farms being at a higher elevation. Ranges reported from the 1970s onwards refer to the coffee zones optimal range being between 1,250m to 1,600m above sea level. Whereas, now it is likely the optimal range is from 1,450m to 1,800m or even higher.

Colombia’s coffee farms have also been experiencing issues with other economic factors. Coffee prices have become extremely low on the New York exchange, while high levels of migration of younger workers to cities is also an issue. This has ultimately resulted in the loss of 40,000 hectares of planting area, in the last 18 months. 

Approximately 95% of Colombia’s 500,000 coffee farms are smaller than 12 acres, thus the increasing volatility in growing conditions and economic issues will create a long-term issue to the country’s small coffee businesses. 

One small farmer commented, to a PhD researcher, on the struggles farmers faced with the unpredictability of conditions: “In the period of flowering, there was summer. During harvest, there was winter. But from 2008 onward, this changed, and we now don’t know when it will be summer when the coffee will blossom. Our yearly production now varies by up to 40 percent.” 

Nespresso, last year, launched a pilot weather index insurance program. The insurance was designed to provide insurance protection to vulnerable populations and provide coverage for crop losses due to climatic shocks.

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