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Coffee Climate Resilience and Sustainability in Brazilian Coffees

Climate Change and severe climate has been impacting Brazilian Arabica coffee production, and this has been hitting harder on farmers over the last 10 – 15 years. Volume of rains have been lower, and uneven, the temperature has been much higher, and we have been having longer dry periods within the rainy season. Traditional coffee regions, where farmers were not used to such severe conditions, have been facing these issues much more oftenly. The year of 2014 is a good example, when the largest global Arabica coffee belt (states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo) was hit by a huge drought and the coffee prices increased by 30% in a month in NY due to uncertainties on 2014 crop.

Farmers that rely on agroecological practices, use of shaded trees, wind-barriers, high soil organic matter content, soil covered and protected with weeds, are much more resilient to all of that, and have been managing to better adapt to these severe conditions. Organic Brazilian farmers, in general, have been much more resilient to severe climate and climate change, as these farmers more frequently adopt such practices. Some conventional farmers have been also adopting climate resilient practices, but still there is a long way.

Farmers that rely on irrigation to overcome the climate issue, many times are impacting neighbouring farmers and communities, by using water that should be for everyone. Irrigation can be used as an adaptation strategy, but its use needs to be monitored and responsibly implemented.

As an organic and shaded grown coffee farmer, we have been managing to sustainably produce rain-fed coffees in the same lands for more than 100 years. I have been also promoting shaded grown coffee, and other organic technologies to coffee farmers in general. Shaded grown coffee has never been trusted by farmers in Brazil, and 99% of Brazil coffee is full sun. In my PhD I have studied how to use shade trees on such a way that farmers can have good yields, while adapting to climate, reducing pests & diseases and increasing coffee quality, but in the early 2000´s the sector interest was low, and only the more alternative and organic farmers had interest on using shade trees. Interesting to see how in these last 5 years the interest to use shade trees throughout Brazil has been increasing a lot! If Brazil manages to increase the use of shade trees on coffee plantations, this will bring great climate, biodiversity, and quality improvements for the Brazilian coffee sector.

I also very much believe that organic production has a broader role (besides delivering the organic products), which is to show cleaner, yet efficient alternatives to conventional farmers, so that they can become more sustainable. I truly see that Brazil can keep the conventional high-yields coffee plantations, yet, feeding from some of the cleaner & efficient technology developed by the organic sector, adapted and up-scaled by the conventional sector. If Brazil manages to go in this direction, it will be great.