Thursday 05 October 2023

New report reiterates concerns about climate crisis’ impact on coffee

Polling commissioned by Christian Aid reveals three in five (57%) Brits are concerned and almost seven in ten (69%) agree that the UK Government should do more to reduce the impact of the climate crisis on the food supply chain to the UK. Expert forecasts warn that temperature rises of just 1.5ºC - 2ºC will see highly suitable land for growing coffee slashed by over half - 54%. Two countries - Brazil and Vietnam - where the UK gets over half (53%) of its coffee are most affected. The Fairtrade Foundation, Mzuzu Coffee Cooperative in Malawi and UK-based Caturra Coffee Club speak out on the impact of the climate crisis on coffee. International development agency, Christian Aid, is calling on the UK Government to boost climate finance to help farmers in developing countries adapt to the changing climate and pay for the damages caused, including by cancelling debt historic debts

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LONDON, UK – The UK’s love for a cup of coffee is under threat from the climate crisis according to a new report by charity Christian Aid. The paper outlines how coffee farmers in poorer countries require financial support from richer countries to help farmers adapt to climate change and to address the loss and damage it causes.

In the UK alone, Brits drink more than 98 million cups of coffee a day. According to calculations by Christian Aid, that is enough to fill more than nine Olympic sized swimming pools.

However, analysis from the international development charity warns coffee farmers are facing a host of climate related impacts such as rising temperatures, erratic rainfall, disease, droughts and landslides – an issue observed by Christian Aid partners in Honduras.

Expert forecasts warn that temperature increases of just 1.5ºC – 2ºC will see highly suitable land for growing coffee slashed by over half – 54% – by the end of the century. This includes the two countries where the UK gets most of its coffee from: Brazil and Vietnam.

It is worrying news for the livelihoods and survival of coffee farmers. For the British economy, the British Coffee Association estimated the number of jobs supported by coffee in the UK stood at some 210,325 in 2017.

The warnings appear to also be concerning British consumers. New polling by Savanta, commissioned by Christian Aid, reveals three in five (57%) UK adults say they are concerned that climate change will impact the cost, taste, and availability of coffee in the UK.

The polling also shows almost seven in ten (69%) UK adults say they agree that the UK Government should do more to reduce the impact of the climate crisis on the food supply chain to the UK, such as supporting coffee farmers in developing countries shift to sustainable and resilient methods of production.

The publication of the report – Wake up and smell the coffee: The climate crisis and your coffee – marks the start of Christian Aid Week, the UK’s longest running fundraising week dating back to 1957.

The report’s conclusion includes recommendations to boost climate finance to help farmers in diversification of livelihoods to climate resilient crops and cancelling unjust debts to help countries free up resources to tackle climate change and poverty.

The dire situation facing coffee farmers around the globe has not gone unnoticed. The Fairtrade Foundation, Mzuzu Coffee Cooperative in Malawi, UK-based Caturra Coffee Club and climate experts are speaking out on the impact of the climate crisis on coffee.

Mackson Ng’ambi, Chief Executive Officer of Mzuzu Coffee Cooperative in Malawi, said: “Our experience is that in a year where the early season rains have been poor or non-existent, coffee flowering has also been grossly poor. This is now a frequent recurrence.

“The global coffee pricing should take into consideration that farmers are making more effort to maintain a field of coffee and hence increased cost of production. If this is not recognised and informs coffee prices, sadly most growers will abandon coffee farming.

“There is also a need for direct funding that would benefit the small-scale coffee growers, such as access to low interest financing which is currently not available. If nothing is done, we should forget about coffee in a few years to come.”

The UK Government has an opportunity to make a difference, according to Christian Aid’s Chief Executive, Patrick Watt. He said: “Small-scale coffee farmers are living on the frontline of the climate crisis, despite having contributed little to the problem of global warming.

“The UK government must wake up and smell the coffee. As a country that has benefitted far more than most from industrialisation, and has contributed disproportionately to the climate crisis, we have a particular responsibility to people whose livelihoods are under threat from climate change.

“To tackle the root causes of the problem, the UK and other wealthy countries need to follow through on their promises and fund support for farmers in poorer countries to grow climate resilient crops and diversify their sources of income. Cancelling the unsustainable debts held by many coffee producing countries would also free up further resources to tackle climate change and poverty.”

These sentiments were echoed by Petronila Barahona Cedillo, 52, from El Porvenir, Honduras. She works with her family on their farm, using technology such as rain gauges and weather stations to support their farming. “We need to educate. If human beings knew the damage they are doing to nature, and the consequences that this is going to bring, I think that they would never do what they are doing now.”

James Lillis, Founder and Co-owner of the UK-based Caturra Coffee Club, is working to establish his business as the UK’s first carbon negative coffee club. Welcoming Christian Aid’s report, he said:

“You cannot ignore the fact that climate change is accelerating fast and poses a risk to coffee farmers, as Christian Aid shows. With extreme weather and natural disasters increasing, the people who supply our roasters will become ever more vulnerable.

“From being carbon negative to donating 1% of all our sales to environmental causes, we’re determined to do all we can to preserve and restore our natural environment for future generations.

“However, most research we’ve seen suggests that the carbon footprint of coffee from farm to consumption is about 10 to 11 times the weight of coffee. If a growing number of consumers and businesses can act, then government should have no excuse.”

Yitna Tekaligne, Christian Aid’s Ethiopia Country Manager, added: “Africans make up 17% of the world’s population but we generate just 4% of the greenhouse gas emissions that have caused the climate crisis. And yet it is we who are suffering the brunt of the impacts of climate change.

“Our coffee industry is Ethiopia’s most important export and generates significant employment. But now it is under threat from climate change. The impact of climate change on coffee production is in plain sight, including through high levels of coffee leaf rust.

“There is a lot the UK Government can do, starting with using its power to get Western private creditors to cancel the debts of the world’s poorest countries and mobilising the vital finance we need to address the Loss and Damage caused to our country by the climate crisis.”

David Taylor, Fairtrade Foundation’s Senior Policy Manager, said: “This timely report from Christian Aid’s highlights what Fairtrade coffee farmers have been telling us for some time: the catastrophic consequences of climate breakdown is endangering not only their livelihoods, but also the future of their popular crop.

“Farming communities have a critical role in addressing the climate crisis and have the expertise to tackle it. However, too many smallholder coffee farmers — particularly those without the financial protections Fairtrade offers — simply cannot afford to do so, because the price they receive for their produce is far too low. This is unjust.

“Fairtrade Foundation believes there has never been a more pressing need for UK businesses to prioritise sustainability, ethics and fair pay for farmers in their supply chains. At the same time, we continue to urge richer, higher polluting nations to honour their promises and ensure climate finance truly delivers for smallholder farmers in an inclusive way.

“Otherwise, there’s no guarantee that current and future generations of farmers will be able to adapt to our climate reality and continue to grow the quantities of coffee we rely heavily on here in the UK.”

African climate change expert Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate and energy think tank, said: “Africa and the UK isn’t just connected through coffee, we are also connected through climate change. As a major historical polluter, the UK has played a big part in the climate emergency which many Africans are suffering from. The UK Government talks a lot about Global Britain’, but we are yet to see Ministers back that up with action. As we approach COP28, we need world leaders to spell out the details on climate finance. The whole world will be watching, not least coffee farmers and other people on the front lines of the climate crisis.”

Yadira Lemus, a coffee farmer born from generations of coffee producers in Honduras, is part of a women’s group working with the support of Christian Aid partners to implement climate adaptation projects and improve the income of women.

“As a coffee producer, it is more and more difficult to produce,” Yadira Lemus explains. “And yes, that is obviously related to climate change, because before we would plant coffee and it produced almost by itself.”

She adds: “With regard to climate change, we are seeing an increase in temperature. It is harder to predict the weather. Before we could say which is winter or summer, and when we can plant. Not anymore. We cannot say that because it changes from one year to the other, and it is not easy to predict. Who was going to predict that we were going to have the storms and hurricanes we had last year. Now you see there is a lack of rain. We are more vulnerable to these types of changes.

“Each time we have to search for higher places to produce. People are now deforesting higher zones, which generally are recharge zones for springs, which in the end are the water sources we take the supply from. They are also contaminating them because they are not implementing good agricultural practices.”

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