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 coffeeandclimate.org.
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.