Colombian Coffee Farmers Struggle

Coffee farmers struggle to adapt to Colombia’s changing climate

(Aug 22, 2018, The Conversation) We asked 45 farmers questions that tapped into the farmers’ own conceptualization of climate change, such as “What is climate change?” and “How, if at all, has climate change affected you as a farmer?”

The results were stark.

Over 90 percent of the coffee farmers reported changes in average temperature. Seventy-four percent said droughts had gotten longer and worse, and 61 percent reported an increase in mountainside erosion and landslides because of more rain.

The farmers also perceived impacts of these environmental changes on their crops. Ninety-one percent reported changes in the flowering and fruiting cycles of the coffee plants. Seventy-five percent had noticed an increase in pests, and 59 percent reported an increase in crop disease.

These changes have created uncertainty about previously routine farming decisions.

Because the planting and harvesting seasons are no longer regular or predictable, for example, many farmers cannot rely on traditional seasonal indicators to guide them about the right time to plant, harvest or tend to their coffee crops.

Organizing labor to pick the coffee beans has also become a struggle because the trees often do not flower at the same time due to unstable seasonal conditions. New Colombian labor laws meant to decrease child labor make finding farmhands difficult, compounding the problem.

In short, the farmers saw climate change as nothing less than an existential threat.

“Our ability to counteract the effects of climate change is minimal,” one farmer told us. “It is a threat capable of greatly incapacitating us. So we must be very attentive to the little we can do to mitigate.”