Agriculture / Climate Change

Addressing Climate Change Through Certification

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

This is what Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told the audience at the launch of the UN’s report on the impact of climate change in Japan today.

With climate change already beginning to affect crop yields, the report says that yields could decline sharply towards the middle of the century, which would have an impact on food security, poverty and political stability globally.

Coffee beansAs an agricultural commodity, coffee is extremely vulnerable to climate change and pest and disease outbreaks aggravated by an unstable climate.  Coffee production is heavily dependent on temperature and rainfall; changes in this can have a notable impact on quality, productivity and suitability of the crop. As such, an increase in temperatures, even by just 2 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce coffee growing areas and have a negative impact on the livelihoods of coffee farmers around the world.

Here at the Rainforest Alliance, we are committed to addressing climate change and supporting coffee farmers globally to mitigate and adapt to the changing environment. We want to ensure a sustainable future that benefits the environment, the farmers and their families and the coffee drinker.

Our climate module, which has been a voluntary part of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards required for Rainforest Alliance certification since 2011, promotes on-farm actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increase carbon sequestration and enhance the capacity of farms to adapt to climate change.

There are a number of ways that farmers can adapt to and prepare for climate change. By properly incorporating shade-giving trees, a requirement for Rainforest Alliance certification, farmers can buffer vulnerable crops from swings in temperature and rainfall. Certification standards also promote the use of native tree species, which can play an important role in protecting local biodiversity. It is also imperative that we promote research and evaluation around new crop varieties; some varieties grown today will not be productive in future climate conditions.

Coffee farmer

Our climate module has seen significant successes since its inception. Most recently, at the end of 2013, over 200 Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee farms in Central America achieved climate-smart verification. By adopting practices that curb emissions and increase carbon storage, these farms captured more than 218,000 metric tons of carbon — equivalent to the annual emissions of approximately 43,600 cars.

The project provided training and technical assistance to 538 coffee growers and saw 218 farms in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador achieve verification, bringing 7,413 acres (3,000 hectares) of land under sustainable, climate-smart management.

As a result of the project, these farmers are now better prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, such as droughts and floods and recognise that their actions can have a tangible impact in addressing the problem.

To earn climate-smart verification, farmers were required to conserve existing forest on their farms and plant more trees. They also adopted soil conservation methods that sequester carbon, using organic matter as compost and burying fertiliser to help reduce emissions. The farmers learned to prepare for changing climatic conditions by conserving natural resources and establishing emergency plans to deal with extreme weather events.

Coffee farmIn Oaxaca, Mexico, where coffee farmers are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, we are working with groups of farmers on an innovative carbon coffee project that uses sustainability certification to build climate resiliency. Protecting coffee is an important long-term consideration; the carbon coffee project specifically aims to reduce the vulnerability of coffee farms by stabilising their microclimate and protecting the coffee market.

Addressing the potential threats associated with climate change is one of the biggest challenges of this century. The Rainforest Alliance aims to develop and improve the benefits certification can bring to farmers and our global climate. As the SAN standards are revised and completed later this year, adaptation criteria will take on a more central role. These standards will drive the adoption of measures that improve resiliency and reduce vulnerability to climate impacts.

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