Coffee cultivation is changing with the climate

Climate change has a signif­icant impact on coffee culti­vation. Coffee farmers can only maintain or improve the quality and quantity of their yields if they adapt their farming practices to the conse­quences of global warming. For years, we have been committed to providing them with the necessary skills to do this. To this end, we partic­ipate in the Coffee & Climate initiative, which gathers findings about environ­men­tally friendly farming practices adapted to climate change and passes them on to farmers.

Coffee plants are demanding: they need rich soil, adequate water and special climatic condi­tions that are only found along the equator. The Arabica variety is partic­u­larly sensitive to climatic changes: even a small rise in temper­ature affects the quality of the raw coffee and lowers yields. Robusta plants are more resistant by nature, but depend on higher rainfall and must be irrigated during prolonged droughts.

Temper­ature increase is already noticeable

Climate change mainly impacts coffee culti­vation through longer and more intense droughts, more vehement and more frequent storms, and heavier rainfall with the attendant soil erosion. 2014 was a perfect example of the conse­quences this devel­opment can have for the coffee sector. In Brazil, a drought reduced the yields of many farms by up to 20%. For several years now, increased temper­a­tures and periods of higher rainfall in some Latin American countries have caused a prolif­er­ation of a leaf disease known as ‘coffee rust’. Harvests in the regions affected by this disease also declined sharply. In future, the global temper­ature rise will cause a geographic shift in the coffee-growing regions in important countries of origin, says the IPCC in its 2014 progress report.

Spread proven and new measures for climate adaptation

Environ­men­tally friendly production methods can help to conserve natural resources for coffee culti­vation. For example, the mixed culti­vation of coffee plants with other crops and trees offers protection from wind and sun, thereby preventing soil erosion. So this also helps farmers to adapt to the reper­cus­sions of climate change. Given the large number of climate-induced changes, tradi­tional practices must be comple­mented by new research results. For instance, it is recom­mended that older coffee plants be replaced with robust new varieties that are more drought-resistant. Expert pruning and other mainte­nance measures can also increase resilience. Soils should also be regularly mulched to prevent them from drying out. Tchibo works to establish processes like these with more and more coffee farmers, and mainly relies on strategic partner­ships to do so.

Coffee & Climate: Partnership for climate-adapted coffee culti­vation

The Coffee & Climate devel­opment partnership launched in 2010 plays a key role in the adaptation of coffee culti­vation to changing climatic condi­tions. We are a founding member of the initiative with other inter­na­tional coffee companies, a green coffee trader, and the German Society for Inter­na­tional Cooper­ation (GIZ). It is active in four strate­gi­cally important growing regions for Arabica and Robusta beans: Brazil, Vietnam and Tanzania as well as Trifinio – an area in the border region between Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Coffee & Climate provides local protag­o­nists with the tools and knowledge to identify local risks to coffee culti­vation from climate change and commu­nicate suitable adaptation methods to producers. Experi­ences gained from proven farming methods are combined with findings from climate science research.

During the first phase of the project, around 3,000 farmers were integrated into the programme by 2014. One important goal was met: more than half of the farmers has already used two or more methods of adaptation. In the four pilot regions, workshops for coaches were held so that they could pass on their knowledge to as many farmers as possible. Since February 2015, the 180-page guide ‘Climate Change Adaptation in Coffee Production’ has been available for download on coffee­and­

In 2015 Coffee & Climate will carry out an internal evalu­ation of its work. A second project phase is planned, which will run until 2017. During this time, Coffee & Climate will system­at­i­cally work with major standards organ­i­sa­tions. In 2014, a working group was set up with the 4C Associ­ation, the Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified and Fairtrade to this end. It will dissem­inate spread proven measures for adapting to climate change and develop new ones. The partners also intend to develop new methods for reducing green­house gases and expand their commu­ni­cation with external stake­holders.

New standards and initia­tives for climate-friendly coffee

In the coffee sector, another important issue beyond adapting to the conse­quences of climate change is the reduction of green­house gas emissions in culti­vation. For instance, using nitrogenous fertiliser can increase emissions of climate-damaging nitrous oxide gas. However, documenting such effects is a very complex procedure as there are no uniform standards. That is why Tchibo is partic­i­pating in the Coffee Working Group of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI), which has set itself the goal of devel­oping a globally appli­cable method for measuring and calcu­lating the carbon footprint of green coffee. As a basis for reporting, a Product Category Rule was published in 2013, based on the inter­na­tional ISO 14067 standard, which specifies how CO₂ emission data and the carbon footprint should be collected and calcu­lated.

The EU initiative for the devel­opment of Product Environ­mental Footprints (PEF) goes even further. The initiative is an element in the European Commission's Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe. The idea is to develop a method that allows govern­ments and companies to assess the overall environ­mental perfor­mance of consumer goods or food items. This should allow consumers to compare the environ­mental impact of different products in the same category with each other and adjust their purchasing decisions accord­ingly.

Since 2014, the European Coffee Feder­ation as the umbrella organ­i­sation for the European coffee industry has partic­i­pated in the EU’s PEF initiative with its own pilot project. In it, the coffee industry compiles its own findings on the feasi­bility of a Product Environ­mental Footprint, and also plans to test how the environ­mental perfor­mance of coffee can best be commu­ni­cated to consumers.

The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) and Tchibo support the devel­opment of the Product Environ­mental Footprint because of its high degree of relevance for the entire coffee sector. In a similar way to the SAI carbon footprint project, a Product Category Rule will be developed for the collection and analysis of data for the PEF. What it will look like and how it can be commu­ni­cated to the customer will, of course, be an essential part of the project work.

Protecting biodi­versity and ecosystems

Tchibo champions the conser­vation of biodi­versity and the protection of ecosystems in coffee growing. That is why, in 2012, we became a member of ‘Biodi­versity in Good Company’, an initiative by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment. It brings together leading companies from various sectors to work together on devel­oping solutions to preserve biodi­versity around the world. It also seeks to raise public awareness of the impor­tance of biodi­versity.

When we joined we signed a ‘leadership decla­ration’ committing ourselves to integrate the preser­vation of biodi­versity into our company’s environ­mental and sustain­ability management and to pursue appro­priate goals and measures. In 2014, we published the second progress report on the leadership decla­ration.

Our most important contri­bution to protecting biodi­versity is the purchase of validated or certified green coffee. Biodi­versity is a priority in the list of require­ments of the EU Bio label and the Rainforest Alliance in particular. However, Fairtrade, UTZ Certified and based standard of 4C Associ­ation also contribute to helping reduce pressure on local ecosystems in comparison with conven­tional farming. In consul­ta­tions about the further devel­opment of the standards, we help the organ­i­sa­tions to system­at­i­cally integrate further environ­mental criteria in their require­ments. Already, around 35% of the green coffee grades that Tchibo purchased in 2014 were validated or certified to these standards.

We further help to protect biodi­versity through our Tchibo Joint Forces!® quali­fi­cation programme. As part of the training, coffee farmers also learn about objec­tives and actions to protect biodi­versity.