5 things I didn’t know about growing coffee

This article was written by a social reporter. It has not been edited by the Forum organisers or partners, and represents the opinion of the individual author only.
Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

Imagine a room filled with coffee experts and a heavily caffeinated Social Reporter, dependent on the brew but without much background on how it travels from cherry to cup. That was the setting of the session I attended at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum. To spread the word I’m sharing my main takeaways—the kind that aren’t served in a cup.

Climate change threat

“The IPCC is unequivocal: climate change is having a severe impact on coffee production,” speaks Robério Oliveira Silva, Executive Director of the International Coffee Organization. The rise of pests & diseases in a hotter and wetter world, a shrinking area of land suitable for coffee farming and lower coffee quality are all impacting coffee production. Silva: “We have a lot of work to do in the coming years!”

Do it in the shade!

Conversion of shade-grown coffee into full-sun monoculture is a worldwide trend, shows research in Peru. Costs are lower and biodiversity higher in agroforestry systems. Unfortunately, farmers assume full-sun monocultures to be more productive and cheaper: “We need to crack paradigms, shade grown coffee is better!”

Or at least cover up…

Another way to improve farming practices is by covering the soil. A case study by Coffee&Climate in Honduras shows better yield when doing this. They compared no cover (group A) with live soil cover with brachiaria (group B) and temporary shade through Pigeon Pea in combination with Brachiaria (group C). Group A had 582 cherries per tree after the experiment, group B 1,094 and group C 1,541. Does this mean that the age of monocultures is over?

Production first

“Even with certification, people still go hungry,” says Merling Preza Ramos, General Manager of coffee cooperative Prodecoop. She gave us insight into the coffee farmer’s life and stressed that productivity is key when ‘selling’ new ways of farming to farmers. Ivannia Quesada Villalobos, Vice Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of Costa Rica, agrees: “If we want to talk to producers we need to talk about productivity.” Ramos: “It is costly to take care of the environment, new sustainable farming methods need to go hand in hand with financing.”

The world’s first sustainable crop?

If it is up to Coffee&Climate and the Sustainable Coffee Challenge it will be! Coffee&Climate are ready to scale up to enable 70,000 coffee farmers to better respond to climate change. Explore their toolbox for inspiration. Conservation Intern​ational organises the Sustainable Coffee Challenge to develop a plan to drive the industry toward total sustainability. In March of 2016 their results will be unveiled… don’t forget to tune in.