The US has elected a climate change sceptic as President-Elect who has talked about pulling out the Paris Agreement. What might be the consequences for millions of farmers around the world, for the coffee and cocoa supply chain, and consumers?
Since President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, his stance on climate change has drawn criticism from many quarters. Many fear that a Trump administration could stall or undo much of the progress made in recent years to stabilize the climate, and concerns about the coming Trump administration haven’t eased with the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt – who has claimed that the climate change debate is ‘far from settled’ – to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Whatever its actual stance, it seems clear that the coming Trump administration isn’t going to be very science-oriented, and that it will probably choose to ignore the opinions of the thousands of experts in their field whose work brought about the long-sought agreement. Even if it doesn’t formally withdraw from the agreement – which was adopted by 195 countries, including the US, which sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C – a Trump administration could just ignore it its commitments under the agreement.
Effects of climate change understood
The view from Trump Towers may be that climate change isn’t real, but millions of farmers around the world know only too well that the climate is changing, not least those who grow coffee and cocoa. Farmers, their representatives, trade associations and international bodies such as the International Coffee Organization, International Cocoa Organization, World Cocoa Foundation and World Coffee Research and others too numerous to mention have all taken the climate change issue on board and acted on it, but what might be the effects for farmers, the coffee and chocolate industries, and their supply chains, if efforts to address climate change unravel?
“There are so many ways to backslide that without a strong and committed world leader, it is very unlikely that ambitious targets will be met,” said Dr Peter Baker, C&CI’s long-time correspondent and former Senior Scientist, commodities and climate change at CABI. “The EU has always been ineffective at taking a strong lead and leaked documents show it has dragged its feet on issues such as emissions from air travel” Asked how serious an effect would it have on efforts to address climate change and stop further warming if the US were to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Dr Baker said it was difficult to say. “If the other major countries are committed, then the agreement will be implemented. But even if US remains efforts to address climate change are not going to stop warming any time soon. What many people don’t realize is that to fully implement the Paris Agreement, it requires technologies that are not yet perfected or cost-effective. This is reflected in a recent UNEP statement just before the Marrakesh meetings, in which they stated that the world is still heading for temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4oC this century, even with Paris pledges, and that by 2030 emissions will be 12-14 gigatonnes above levels needed to limit global warming to 2oC.” UNEP is one of the most respected international bodies and is not given to scaremongering.
Temperatures will continue to rise
“Whatever happens, the climate is going to go on warming for decades to come, with most likely at least another 1C rise by 2050,” Dr Baker told C&CI. “Since we have seen increased weather extremes over the past decades with much less than a 1C rise, another degree will make for many more extremes, including very heavy rains, droughts and heatwaves. Many farmers are already struggling – as seen by the rust crisis, recent floods and droughts in Vietnam, Indonesia and several other countries. We should plan for the likelihood of more such events in the future.”
Asked where the consequences of further climate change might most be felt, Dr Baker said: “This is the problem – almost anywhere can be affected by floods and droughts, as the recent, and totally unexpected 2014 drought in Minas Gerais shows. Minas Gerais is about the last place we would have expected and the part of Minas Gerais that was most seriously affected is actually slated to get wetter according to the climate models. So expect the unexpected.
“Of course, it will be farmers who will be most seriously affected. Consumers too should expect higher prices and poorer quality as the percentage of Robusta in blends gets greater. Those who buy chocolates may have already noticed that the size of bars have tended to decline. Price volatility will likely remain high, making many planning decisions more difficult.”
What is the outlook for USAID?
Asked what effect it might have on scientific research and public/private sector projects that aim to help farmers adapt, Dr Baker said he believed scientific research will still continue and said that, historically, US public support for coffee and cocoa science has been fairly small. “Much bigger has been the inputs in the development sphere from USAID, which for some years has been quietly doing some excellent climate change adaptation work,” he said. “So far it’s not clear what Trump intends to do in the sphere of international development. It will be particularly interesting to see how he tackles the World Bank group for instance.
“One might expect strong lobbying by US coffee companies to secure sustainable supplies of coffee into the future. They could argue that the way to slow migration pressure is to improve rural prosperity in Latin America; they might point to the recent upsurge of child migrants turning up in the US after the coffee rust outbreak in 2012/13.
Evidence-based arguments needed
“A really hard-nosed Trump response might be that coffee and other tropical commodities show no real signs of shortage, and indeed data is weak on how coffee is changing globally. So there could be a scramble for evidence-based arguments to support the need for long-term support for Latin American and global rural infrastructure and agronomy research,” Dr Baker told C&CI.
Dr Kate Ervine, Associate Professor, International Development Studies, and Dr Gavin Fridell, Canada Research Chair in International Development Studies, both of Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, told C&CI: “While climate change affects us all, the world’s poor and vulnerable are disproportionately impacted. This is especially the case for the world’s coffee and cocoa farmers whose poverty and insecurity leave them highly susceptible to the ravages of climate change. Rising temperatures and erratic weather are contributing to water shortages and stressed coffee trees, increasing their vulnerability to pests and disease. In Central America, increasing temperatures threaten the viability of high quality coffee grown in low-lying regions, impacting millions.
“Studies predict that without dramatic emissions reductions globally, the consequences will be catastrophic. Yet this is where President-elect Trump is taking us. Estimates project that CO2 emissions in the US will increase by 3.4 billion tons if Trump wins two terms. His intention to ignore the Paris Agreement means other nations may weaken their commitments too. The global community must rally together to push back against Trump’s high carbon agenda. There’s no time to lose.”
Funding for adaptation
Tim Schilling, Executive Director of World Coffee Research (WCR) – a programme funded and driven by the global coffee industry, guided by producers, executed by coffee scientists around the world and managed by the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University – told C&CI: “The higher the rise in global temperature averages, the greater the impact is expected to be on coffee producers. Paris signatories agreed to curb emissions to keep the rise below 2°C; if the US pulls out, others may also pull out and it’s very likely we will exceed the 2°C target. Another key agreement out of Paris is providing funding for developing countries to adapt to climate change. If those funding streams dry up it will be much harder for coffee producers already being impacted by rising temperatures and erratic weather to cope and stay in farming, and it will put a much higher responsibility on the private sector to help.”
Dr Schilling said WCR research conducted in collaboration with CIAT indicates that the worst affected areas would be those that are already hot and dry, such as Minas Gerais in Brazil. “Generally, areas with current cool and constant temperatures, like those tightly clustered around the equator, are predicted to fare better. Farms at higher elevations will be insulated longer as well. But Brazil, for example, might be in a better position to help farmers adapt than poorer countries in places with less severe declines in the area suitable for coffee predicted. You have to take into account not just the changes in weather and temperature, but also the local infrastructure. Coffee leaf rust taught us that in a big way. Countries that had the capacity to support their farmers, like Honduras, are producing more coffee than ever despite the epidemic. But countries without that support, like El Salvador, have seen huge migration of farmers away from coffee.”
Dr Schilling told C&CI that he thought it was too early to say if there might be an effect on research designed to help farmers adapt? “There is some fear in the American development community that organizations like USAID – which has funded a lot of work in coffee producing countries (and is a partner of WCR) – will lose funding or see changes in leadership that move the department in a different direction. There is also some fear about scientific funding in general, to the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation (NSF). USAID, the US Department of Agriculture and to a small extent NSF fund agricultural research on coffee and cocoa. If those budgets were to be significantly cut, it would have a negative effect on coffee/cocoa research and development. If they were lost, industry would need to step in and take responsibility for more forward funding.”
Rob Everts, Co-President of Equal Exchange, which purchases thousands of tons of coffee and cocoa from small farmer co-operatives around the world, told C&CI: “Here in the US we see the extremes in the form of hotter weather, more intense storms and deeper, more enduring drought conditions in many regions. In the coffee and cocoa growing areas of the world, thousands of livelihoods are at stake. Crops are lost. Unemployment and hunger ensue. We support continuation of low carbon policies to allow the US to meet or exceed our promised national commitment. We also support continued US participation in the Paris Agreement, in order to provide the long-term direction needed to keep global temperature rise below 2°C.”
Smallholders need tools to help them adapt
Chris Brett, Global Head Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at Olam International, recently highlighted climate change as one of the biggest issues facing farmers. “Smallholders need to be equipped to deal with climate change now,” he said. “When the Olam started, environmental training focused on protecting water bodies, preventing deforestation and safe pesticide use. But as the reality of climate change reaches farming communities, so has the urgency of mitigating impacts. Training farmers in climate smart agriculture is essential.”
Nigel Sizer, President of certification body Rainforest Alliance, which has long played a role certifying sustainably produced coffee and cocoa and played a major role in efforts to make farming more sustainable, issued a statement in which he said it was “imperative” to act on behalf of the planet and actively oppose political measures that will further endanger natural resources and human lives.
Reacting to the result of the recent US election, Mr Sizer said: “Despite this turn in the road, we must fortify ourselves with renewed vigour to the urgent task at hand. Many of us working to fight climate change had been feeling optimistic last week as world leaders gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco for the United Nations Climate Conference (COP22). Then Donald Trump, an avowed climate sceptic, was elected President. Among his many ominous campaign promises was his stated intention to ‘cancel’ the US commitment to the Paris Agreement, which came into force just days before his election.
“Many of the promises Donald Trump made on the campaign trail were lacking in facts and simply won’t be possible to implement. Some of his more extreme measures may not even be possible within the confines of a constitutional republic. And, just as the courts slowed down Obama’s efforts on climate change, the same courts can be used as a counterbalance to Trump’s initiatives. I believe most Americans want to keep our seat at the climate table – at least 60 per cent of Americas recognize the threats posed by climate change,” said Mr Sizer. “The science is too compelling, and the majority of us understand the need for immediate action. As Secretary of State John Kerry recently said, ‘Climate change is real…and the longer we wait, the harder the problem will be to solve.’
“Nongovernmental organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance have been effectively and consistently addressing some of the most critical environmental challenges around the world for decades. And even though we are justifiably cynical of a President-elect who does not believe in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, we have not lost hope. We have survived other environmentally reckless administrations and we know from experience that we can weather the storm-and that the pendulum will swing back with a vengeance. Although the commitments in the Paris Agreement are voluntary, there is enormous international diplomatic and economic pressure to follow through on them. And even if Trump finds a way to make good on his threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, it could take years to do so. And a new President could reinstate our participation in his wake.
Paris agreement give smallholders hope
For his part, Miguel Zamora, Head of Regional Development – Americas at UTZ described climate change as “a reality for millions of coffee and cocoa farmers,” including many UTZ certified. “They face more frequent pests and diseases, more work because of erratic ripening and longer harvest periods. And revenues are declining due to lower quality. Some predictions state that due to climate change the area suitable for coffee production will decrease by 50 per cent if no action is taken. Strong policies are needed in producing and consuming countries to support producers and help them to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Climate commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement give hope to millions of smallholder farmers. Future US climate policy will have major implications for coffee and cocoa farmers worldwide. We urge the new US administration to continue with the Paris Agreement,” he concluded.
“It is inevitable that the warming atmosphere will have an effect on agricultural production worldwide, especially coffee and cocoa, where we see negative influences, which means that people in the poorest parts of the world population will lose income. The richest people will have to adapt to if they are to help the poor to survive. History provides us with many lessons about the reasons wars occur. The climate conflict should not be another one,” said Andreas Christiansen, a managing partner at Hamburg Cocoa & Commodity Office in Hamburg, Germany. ■ C&CI
Cup quality likely to be affected
Lots of studies have looked at the impact of climate change on coffee and the millions of smallholders that produce it, but a new one has found something a little bit different – and potentially concerning – for farmers and the coffee trade. Research by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (ICAT)and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) suggests that climate change will change the way coffees taste.
Many studies have pointed to the fact that even small fluctuations in temperature and rainfall can severely affect yields, but the latest study suggests that it will also affect the taste and flavour of coffee grown in areas affected by climate change. In Nicaragua – a major Arabica producer – climate change promises big doses of both, say the authors of the report. “Cuppers were unanimous that as environmental suitability changes, Nicaragua’s Arabica will lose many of its distinctive, delicate flavours,” said Peter Laderach, a climate change and coffee expert at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
The scientists at CIAT focused on Nicaragua’s coffee-producing departments of Estelí, Madriz and Nueva Segovia. This is where the vast majority of the country’s Arabica comes from. Growing conditions for coffee in these areas range from optimal, to suitable, to marginal. They harvested ripe coffee cherries from farms in each area and, in accordance with international standards, prepared coffee for cuppers to conduct a sensory trial. This enabled them to establish the relationship between the different environmental conditions and the coffee’s flavour and acidity. Finally, they combined the results with predictions as to how climate change will affect growing conditions for coffee across the country. The result is the first glimpse of what the future of Arabica might taste like if climate change continues as expected and suggests that many of Nicaragua’s best coffees are going to taste worse. The scientists found that as suitability falls, acidity will also decrease. Other key characteristics like fragrance, aroma, aftertaste, body and sweetness will take a hit too.
“The cuppers were unanimous that as environmental suitability changes, Nicaragua’s Arabica will lose many of its distinctive, delicate flavours,” said Laderach. “Previously we’ve only been able to make reasonable assumptions that climate change will affect Arabica flavour because of its close correlation with environmental changes. Now we know exactly how it’s likely to be affected.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the scientists expect the suitability of Arabica in Nicaragua to fall by up to 90 per cent. That would mean 44,500 farming families that produce the country’s Arabica can expect to produce less high-quality coffee as a result of climate change. The scientists predict that similar problems could affect Arabica producers around the world, although the note that a lot can be done to adapt production to the challenges ahead.
However, they stress that farmers, supply chains and policymakers need to move quickly. New coffee seedlings need three years before they start to produce cherries, reaching optimum production after around five to six years and continuing for another 20-30 years. In short, the planting decisions taken today will determine coffee production, quality and incomes for decades to come. ■ C&CI
Kohana Coffee: “Can any of us imagine a coffee-less world? Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement means we won’t have to imagine it at all. Left unchecked, rising global temperatures will guarantee that coffee disappears in our lifetime. Extremes of drought and rain will batter those crops that struggle to remain. We are facing a world without coffee and those who grow it face a future without hope. We insist on full unconditional support of the Paris Agreement.”
Gabriela Soto, Committee on Sustainability Assessment: “People may forget and forgive many things, but not to have a cup of coffee in the morning is one they will most likely not forgive. Producers of coffee and cocoa are facing serious challenges in the field due to climate change. Producers need support from governments and non-government officials to overcome this crisis, to adapt to the new conditions.”
Franco Tesoro-Tess, Aziende Riunite Caffè SpA, Milan: “US citizens have made their choice, and those who voted for Mr Trump will all – I repeat all – be compelled to live with the consciences for the next four year, and with the consequences of their incredible, astonishing decision.
Badi Bradley, Caravela Coffee: “We buy coffee directly from producers in Latin America, paying a premium for the quality that they produce. We buy the best coffee. We then sell the coffee to top roasters throughout the world. This is the essence of the free market. Climate change is threatening our business. There are real threats to the supply chain for a product Americans love and cannot do without. Ignore climate change and the best coffee will become increasingly scarce and unaffordable.”
Nancy Nadel, The Oakland Chocolate Company: “Climate change denial is bad for businesses. Any business that relies on agriculture, like chocolate making, which is my business, will be devastated by a ‘head in the sand’ attitude. Chocolate grows 20 degrees above and below the equator. My business relies on Jamaican cocoa beans exclusively. Over the past few years, drought and fires have seriously limited the cocoa harvests there annually. We need economic strategies linked with environmental strategies that work for all businesses.
Olaf Schepel, Sales & Marketing Manager, Caotech, The Netherlands: “As a Dutch company we are concerned about the Mr Trump’s plans, especially the idea to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Increased emissions will affect the world temperature, leading to extreme weather around the world. Harvests, such as coffee and cocoa will be lower. Farmers, who already have low incomes, will be forced to withdraw from growing coffee and cocoa. This will lead to a shortage and higher prices.”
Claudia Lucia Penagos, Penagos, Colombia: “It seems to me that an economic power such as the US and cannot turn its back on the world’s most important problem: climate change. At Penagos, we are aware not only of how climate change has affected coffee growers but all of agriculture. Knowing that Colombia is the third most vulnerable country regarding climate change, we are implementing greater use of sustainable and renewable energies.” ■ C&CI
How might the new administration affect the coffee industry?
The National Coffee Association (NCA) in the US did not respond to a request from C&CI for a statement on the incoming administration’s policy, but Joe DeRupo, Director of External Relations at NCA issued the following excerpt from a recent NCA Member Alert.
“After a deeply divisive campaign, a new administration is poised to assume power in Washington, having been elected on a platform which has expressed scepticism toward big government and regulatory intervention. The transfer of power has only just begun, cabinet and agency appointments are a still in progress, and budget negotiations are far off – including the implications of funding cutbacks or additions. In the meantime, we’re preparing for the changes that may be ahead. Earlier this year, the NCA released the first-ever Economic Impact Study to measure the US coffee economy, and the NCA’s 2017 plan already includes outreach in Washington to raise awareness of the industry’s importance. That outreach will now take on even greater significance as the coming months unfold.
“The NCA will not speculate as to what these changes in Washington may mean for coffee. But it’s never too soon to begin planning, and here are some key issues on the industry’s docket.
• The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA): final regulations are already in place, with most compliance deadlines still in the future. The legislation pivots the nation’s food safety focus from remediation to prevention.
• Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA): legislation was signed earlier this year, but regulations have not yet been developed. The statute closes the consumptive demand exception that suspends rules against imports made with forced labour where they cannot be produced domestically in sufficient quantities to meet consumer demand.
• GMO labelling: legislation was signed this summer that sets a national standard for GMO labelling and pre-empting state laws (like Vermont’s stricter measure), but regulations remain to be written. While there is no known GMO coffee in the marketplace, coffee products containing whiteners, sweeteners and other additives could be affected.
• Food and Drug Administration (FDA) caffeine initiative: the FDA continues to examine all sources of caffeine in the American diet. To date, the focus has been primarily on energy drinks, and the FDA has indicated it is not targeting coffee for regulation.
• Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pesticides: the EPA sets out minimum tolerances for pesticides specific to domestic and imported commodities, although since the coffee cherry is removed, pesticide residue has not been viewed as a major issue for coffee.
As the new administration’s appointments, budgets and priorities are rolled out, the NCA will continue to scrutinize them for potential effects on these items and others that may impact the coffee industry.” ■ C&CI
This article has been published in the January 17 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read other informative articles in the November and future issues of C&CI.