Wake up and smell the climate coffee – Val Brown
Christian Aid is helping coffee farmers in Nicaragua diversify as climate change hits their crops, says Val Brown
While whisky and Irn-Bru are iconic national drinks, there is another beverage that plays a significant role in many of our lives – coffee. Whether you prefer instant, filter, or indulge in a skinny latte from your local coffee shop, the warmth, smell and taste of a hot cup of coffee is a constant marker in our days. During lockdown, a barista-made coffee was probably one of the many things you missed and craved.
Christian Aid has a long history of working with small-scale coffee farmers and producers and was instrumental in establishing the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK. As an international development organisation that works with people of all faiths and none, to support communities to lift themselves out of poverty, working alongside small-scale coffee farmers is in our DNA. In Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Latin America, we’ve been working alongside coffee producers in the Santa Rosa region for many years. Around 80 per cent of the population depend on agriculture for survival and for many, coffee beans are their main source of income.
But there is serious threat to the livelihoods of coffee farmers in Nicaragua, in addition to the current coronavirus pandemic: climate change. Coffee crops require very specific growing conditions to thrive and warmer, wetter weather is playing havoc with the crop. Christian Aid has been working with Soppexcca (a union of 18 Fairtrade coffee co-operatives) for many years, supporting coffee farmers to grow and process high-quality beans sustainably. Soppexcca also runs a youth and education programme to promote positive values, gender equality and environmental awareness, ensuring future generations are well equipped. The coffee Soppexcca produce has won awards both in Nicaragua and around the world, but changing weather patterns are threatening production.
Angela Zelaya is a farmer in Santa Rosa. Her coffee farm used to bring in a good income for her family, but she has seen her crop decrease in recent years, losing up to 30 per cent of her coffee. She says: “With climate change, the coffee suffers from more diseases and pests. The sun has scorched the coffee beans, we cannot sell them and we’re losing more every year.”
This is not a surprise to those of us at Christian Aid who have witnessed similar situations happen around the world. Climate change continues to have a detrimental impact on the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest farmers. Across the globe our partners are helping people to do two things: mitigate the risks and adapt to the new reality that climate change brings.
In Nicaragua our partner Soppexcca is supporting farmers to diversify, by shifting some production from coffee to a crop more resistant to climate change: cocoa. Farmers like Angela are being supported with business loans and cocoa plants.
Climate change may have been pushed out of the headlines by the global pandemic but the urgency to tackle it has never been greater. As we consider what the new normal might look like, we need to build back with justice and make sure the recovery is both green and fair. Governments – in Scotland and the UK – need to fast-track plans to create zero-carbon economies and societies. Any economic stimulus packages must be consistent with those plans. Richer country governments and multilateral institutions must end all support for fossil fuels overseas and increase their investments in renewable energy instead.
The global pandemic has forced us to pause and to reflect on what ‘business as usual’ looks like. We would do well to remember the old proverb: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” So when you drink your next cup of coffee, stop for a moment, let your senses appreciate its warmth, taste and aroma. Then think about where it’s come from in the world, the farmers who picked the coffee beans and the climate challenges they are facing right now in our increasingly unpredictable world.
If you would like to support our Autumn Appeal and help farmers like Angela, please consider donating to Christian Aid. £9 could provide 10 cocoa plants to help a family in Nicaragua start growing a better future: caid.org.uk/neighbours
Val Brown, Community Relations and Fundraising Manager, Christian Aid Scotland
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