This article is part of a special report on Climate Solutions, which looks at efforts around the world to make a difference.
Wilston Vilchez, a third-generation coffee farmer in the mountains of Nicaragua, has witnessed drastic climatic changes on his 25-acre coffee and cacao farm for years, but when two hurricanes hit within 15 days last year, many other farmers he knows realized they needed to be part of the solution.
“They might be small farmers, but they believe in doing something different that will benefit them all,” he said.
Mr. Vilchez, who also manages an agricultural cooperative of about 300 farmers, said that the effects of climate change — rising temperatures, less predictable rainfall, wild swings from drought to flooding, new pests and more — were making it more and more difficult to earn a living from coffee, an experience felt by farmers around the world.
Various organizations and companies are seeking solutions to these challenges. They are helping farmers to improve production and efficiency, developing new strains of beans or farming wild species, and even growing coffee in labs. Producing coffee makes a significant environmental impact — estimates vary, but about 39 gallons of water are needed for one cup, according to UNESCO’s Institute for Water Education.
However, people interviewed at these organizations and companies, and experts in the field, said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be the best way to ensure the future of coffee as we know it (or something close to what we know) and of the planet.
According to a 2014 study, under modest declines of greenhouse gas emissions, about 50 percent of the land with conditions suitable for growing the two main species of coffee, arabica and robusta, which account for 99 percent of commercial supply, “could disappear by 2050.” Brazil and Vietnam, major producing countries, would be especially hard hit.
To the billions of people around the world who rely on drinking coffee (to put it mildly), that forebodes many difficult mornings and possibly rising prices. To the 100 million or so coffee farmers, to say nothing of the tens of millions more who work in transporting, packaging, distributing, selling and brewing coffee, the effects of climate change are making an already precarious existence even more so.
On his farm and across the co-op, Mr. Vilchez works with Blue Harvest, a program from Catholic Relief Services (C.R.S.), started in 2014, which helps Central American coffee farmers restore and protect their water resources, for their benefit and for others …….