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  • QA 235
    Question:
    Does (organic) coffee production affect climate change?
    Background:
    How can coffee production affect climate change? As known we in Ethiopia are the original growers of organic arabica coffee and as such we did not contribute to climate change, especially in coffee.
    Asked by:
    Producer/trade Association - Ethiopia
    Answer:

    To some degree coffee production, including organic, contributes to climate change. The extent will depend on how it is grown, processed, exported and consumed.

    First, for coffee to be certified organic it must be grown as part of an intensive, holistic agricultural production management system that includes the composting of organic materials, mulching, shade regulation and biological pest control. Such a system is based on the principle that a value corresponding to that harvested should be returned to the soil. It excludes the use of agro-chemicals (a major contributor to climate change in coffee production). Of course, in this respect organic production contributes (much) less to climate change than does the industrial type growing of commodity or mainstream coffee.

    Nevertheless, there are other activities, also in the organic coffee chain, that contribute to the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) or Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Within the producing country for example: using tractors, processing equipment, transport vehicles and shipping abroad. And at the consumption end: roasting, packaging, distribution, grinding/brewing, consumption and waste disposal. All these contribute in different ways to GHG emissions and so the coffee industry as a whole should not only focus on coping with climate change (helping producers to adapt), but also on mitigation (reduce its own contribution to GHG emissions). *

    Coffee growing, especially that by smallholders, is of course not a great contributor to GHG emissions. In fact the industry should be able to earn marketable Carbon Reduction Credits (CRCs) through the biosequestration of carbon, for example through afforestation and reforestation since trees capture CO2. Such carbon or GHG saving activities are possible in many coffee-growing areas but, they will only qualify for CRCs if it can be proven that they are additional to anything that might happen anyway. This concept of additionality makes it difficult for coffee growers, especially smallholders, to benefit from the growing carbon-offset or carbon-credit market.

    But, requiring coffee farmers to plant additional trees (at a cost!) before they may qualify for any carbon credits seems not only to ignore the environmental services they already perform, but also disregards the fact that for the vast majority such additional investments are hardly feasible in today's coffee economy. This raises the question why, as is the case for conserving existing forests, maintaining shaded coffee farms, i.e. conserve existing shade trees and their carbon capturing potential, should not count towards earning carbon credits. After all, it can be argued that coffee farms under shade capture and conserve more carbon but at the cost of lower yields and, therefore, lower farmer incomes when compared with coffee grown in direct sunlight.  **

    The foregoing is but a very brief resume of the complexities coffee growers face when aspiring to develop carbon projects, also for organic coffee. Nevertheless more tools and credible monitoring methodologies are now coming to the fore, including a number of ongoing pilot projects that should facilitate extending carbon projects to the majority of coffee producing countries. Provided that the necessary capacity building and legislative support in those countries is forthcoming it may be assumed that progress will accelerate from 2010 onwards.

    For more information and resources on Climate change and the coffee industry please read Chapter 13 of the Coffee Guide. Posted early January 2010 this provides not only an overview of how climate change may affect the industry, but also lists ongoing initiatives and information sources that may assist coffee growers.

    * The total contribution to GHG emissions, from tree to cup, is called the Product Carbon Footprint or PCF. This describes the sum of greenhouse gases accumulated during the full life cycle of a product (good or service) in a specified application. For an example of how to calculate a PCF for coffee, in this case Tanzania, visit http://www.pcf-project.de/main/results/case-studies.

    ** CATIE, the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza in Costa Rica - www.catie.ac.cr , is working with the Costa Rican Fondo Nacional de Financiamiento Forestal (FONAFIFO) on a Payment for Environmental Services Scheme to establish criteria for environmental payments to shaded coffee farms.

    Posted 08 January 2010

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