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Fairtrade coffee producers face challenge of climate change

Fairtrade coffee producers face challenge of climate change

• Arabica bean production could cease in the next decade
• Foundation hopes to act as broker between farmers and retailers

Farmer collects coffee beansCoffee bean farmers have been hit by unprecedented levels of pests and disease as temperatures rise. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The Fairtrade Foundation is hoping that new links between British retailers and small farmers can help tackle the impact of climate change on supplies of some of the world's tastiest coffee.

In the past year, coffee prices have soared to an all-time high as production of the most aromatic and widely used type of bean, arabica, has suffered from unusual weather conditions worldwide.

Toby Quantrill, head of public policy for the foundation, which aims to guarantee a fair price for farmers in developing countries, said: "We are very concerned. The small-scale and poorer farmers we work with are the most vulnerable, and they need support."

The organisation wants to act as a broker between retailers, which can buy carbon credits as a way of offsetting their energy use, and small farmers who can create credits to earn money by planting trees or using more environmentally friendly ways to light or heat their homes.

Fairtrade's move comes amid increasing concern among coffee buyers, particularly those working with small-scale farmers, about the security of supply. They fear not merely disappointment for those who enjoy their caffeine hit with a little more flavour and fragrance, but a global disaster for the coffee industry.

Andrea Olivar at Twin Trading, which buys Fairtrade-approved coffee for supermarkets including Sainsbury's, as well as specialist labels such as Traidcraft and Equal Exchange, said: "If roasters and supermarkets want to continue buying good-quality coffee, with all the changes in the climate, it could get difficult in future. The high-quality arabica bean only grows in specific conditions."

The problem is already apparent to coffee farmers in the Mbale region of Uganda, on the slopes of Mount Elgon, where it is feared that production of arabica beans could cease in the next decade. They are experiencing unprecedented levels of pests and disease, and struggling to deal with unpredictable weather conditions that are dramatically affecting coffee production.

The bean flourishes at 18-23C (64-73F), and in Mbale temperatures appear to be rising – a view held by local farmers and backed up by a recent study by Oxfam.

Pest attack 

Willington Wamayeye, managing director of the Gumutindo Fairtrade coffee co-operative in Mbale, which buys from about 6,000 farmers in the region, said: "When temperatures rise we have a humid environment and it enables diseases and pests to grow, and we have unprecedented levels of pest attack of the coffee. In the past it was manageable – now it's running out of control and you can see a whole garden of plants drying up. It's like an epidemic."

He said 80% of coffee trees were now affected by pests compared with about 10% three or four years ago. In the past a coffee tree used to produce an average 2kg of beans a year but now farmers are barely collecting 0.5kg a tree. Quality is also being affected.

While politicians stall on action to tackle climate change, Ugandan farmers are already being forced to deal with the daily reality of higher temperatures, drought and ill-timed or extreme rainfall. Wamayeye said: "The rivers I used to jump in when I was a small boy are completely dried up apart from when it rains heavily."

Heavy rains coupled with deforestation have also increased the incidence of landslides in the region, which can devastate farms and communities. In March last year, a school, a health centre and several farms were buried after torrential rain.

The fall in coffee production may be a less immediate problem but it does have implications for people in Uganda and beyond. As a lucrative cash crop, coffee is vital to smallholders in providing the money they need for medicines, daily household necessities such as soap and their children's school fees.

While coffee prices are high at the moment, amid increasing demand for high-quality Fairtrade organic coffee of the kind grown by the Gumutindo co-operative, farmers' income is under pressure because yields are falling.

Wamayeye says that, although his co-operative has taken on new farmers, this year he will not be able to meet demand: "I need to raise 40 containers of coffee. I have just fewer than 20 now and I think I will fall short by maybe 10 containers by the end of the season."

That reflects a wider problem in Uganda, where the government says exports of the lower-quality robusta coffee bean have also been hit. Between October and December, 692,485 bags of robusta coffee were shipped, down from 705,277 in the same quarter a year before.

The Fairtrade Foundation is not alone in its endeavours to improve the situation. Partly thanks to the National Assembly for Wales, Mbale is being used to pilot schemes that can help these farmers adapt to climate change.

A project orchestrated by the Welsh assembly is aiming to return Mbale's bare hillsides to the lushly forested slopes they once were. The Cardiff-based Waterloo Foundation, set up by David and Heather Stevens, co-founders of part of insurers Admiral Group, has given £150,000 over three years towards planting about 1m trees in Uganda.

The Waterloo Foundation project is seen as a pilot for a broader scheme, backed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to fund tree planting and other climate change adaptation initiatives. It has just secured $1m (£630,000) of funding for work in Mbale, one of 10 regions around the world that are expected to participate. After months of political wrangling, the UK's Department for International Development has put up £300,000 over three years, with the rest coming from Denmark's international development agency and the UNDP.

Meanwhile other smaller projects are forging ahead. Twin Trading is asking coffee roasters in the UK to pay a slightly higher price in order to guarantee the future of supply through climate change-related projects, including responsible livestock farming, tree-planting and fuel-efficient stoves. Its cow-sharing project is starting this month and it is hoping to find a retail or roaster partner to help it continue the work. It is encouraged by a deal in which Cadbury's, the British chocolate manufacturer acquired last year by the US group Kraft Foods, has committed to help cocoa farmers in Ghana adapt to climate change.

But, as Wamayeye says, the farmers can only help themselves so much: "What we can do, we are doing. We can plant trees. We can't stop people from driving or flying."

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Comment by Mathias Nabutele on March 1, 2011 at 10:55pm


At first i thought it was a simple joke when i read an article by the gurdian posted on progreso network By Angel Mario about climate change in arabica producing areas in eastern uganda mbale and subsquently wrote back to outline the problems we are facing and how we had come up with posible solutions to those problem.Never did iknow that i was adressing a small production centre of the whole world coffee production base i talked about how we have launched a 1 million coffee seedlings project ,MM technolgy,goodfarming practices at coffee a cup. The next question was yes and thanks but how do you plan to implement this good idea , this seems to be a big project and how do you ensure it has delivered according to plan? kept asking Angel Mario, I realised the short fall and approacherd UCDA uganda coffee developement Authority who have now accepted to provide approved seeds for our area and help train and supervise the whole initial activities. But round the corner progreso facilitated us to attend a regional EAFCA East African Finest Coffee Association in Arusha Tanzania and among the Facilitators of one of the activities was Dr.Joseph K. Kimemia (PHD,HSC,MKIM) of COFFEE RESEACH FOUNDATION , based in Ruiru Kenya  ( Email - He simply clarified and made it worse for me that for the case of uganda 10  years covers the whole country and that if there is no corrective internvetion of the globle warming conditions our grand children will just hear that once upon a time there was a Bush plant called coffee and people used to drink it throughout the world and that it was second highly traded commodity after oil. At first i took it lightly but then after his presentation ,i aproached him and  he showed me images of how countries will look like then and that some of the living things could not sustain the heat rendering the world to have a few

Comment by Angel Mario Martinez on February 2, 2011 at 2:21pm

Dear Mathias,

I thought it was indeed interesting to share this article with all of you, I think it is also relevant for the coffee producers in Uganda, where your organization is, but similar situations are happening in - I believe - all producing countries.


I am glad for your comment in the form of solutions to the problems presented in the article.


Who can be involved in supporting to make these solutions happen? 1 million coffee plants require a serious financial resources  to produce and to train farmers and manage the whole operation. Who should finance/coordinate this?


What about in some other countries? are there initiatives happening that are interesting to share with us?




Comment by Mathias Nabutele on January 31, 2011 at 9:53pm

Arabica Coffee bean production will double in a decade


This is in reaction to your article "Arabica coffee bean could cease in the next decade"


We are a specialty arabica coffee cooperative operating in the Mt. Elgon region near mbale district, we are organised in small groups and have been facing the same problems as above but luckly enough we paterned with Progreso foundation and have received expertice and technicle support from international and local experts to evaluate and tackle this problems mentioned above,

Now below are our findings


1.Soil nutrition 

Solution - MM Technology - this Natural made fertlizers, Mountain micro-organism Technology helps on quickening the waste dicomposing process from 4 to 6 months to two weeks  ( the cost of 1 bag of artificial fertilizers can produce 1 metric tonn of MM Fertlizers, the production cost will buy local materials like,molas,Saw dust,Chacoal Dust,cow dung,soil from a natural forest general biodegradable waste etc converted to USD 50 - This technology is already being implemented in Bududa,Manfwa,mbale,Kapchorwa,Sironko and we are ready to share it with other producers, we already have comissioned 120 Trainers of Trainers(TOT) and are soon emberking on the spreading the gospel to even non members because the problem is wide and needs concerted efforts by all producers

2.Pests and Diseases


True there several pests and diseases

My understanding to this effect is still due to lack of nutrients from the soil , when the insects detect the color of leaf from as far as 4 kilometres they will come and automatically start eating up the ripening leaves, the same thing happens to human beings most of the sweet fruits we enjoy are yellowish or orange eg bananas,papaya, mango,even oranges, to the insects its due to nutrition  deftiency in the plants due to poor soils this helps insects detect and attack the leaves , some insects even leave the soil and climb on the coffee trees to eat them up because they have eaten up all the ground nutrients

We can also use mm technology as an equilbram to mix some pests and insectcides solutions to help prevent further spreading


Solution-1,000,000 coffee seedlings

My grand father Chief Nasilu of Buwangan,who was a chief over 60 years a go helped the british distribute and plant some of the coffee gardens to farmers in the villages arround us and no other effort if any has been implemented to increase or even replant new varities or rejuvinate the old trees

You can not expect a coffee tree of over 60 years of age to produce the same weight of coffee that before ,

We have earmarked 20,000 coffee tree seedlings to sale to our farmersm in 2011 and intend to expand to 1,000,000 coffee trees by 2015 within the region.In case any developement patner in interested we patner on this one

We can rejuvinate the coffee gardens in three phases, divive a garden into four plots - Plant the 1st in April ,2nd in August first year and plant 3rd and 4th in second year this helps on not loosing the whole garden and income at a single period. The coffee varieties we have matures after 18 months fro the first harvest

4.Post Harvest


All farmers should know that cofffee is food or beverage like millet,sorgham,barley,maize etc we need to change our poor harvesting practices to agreed good havesting procedures(GHP) and create alternative incomes on our farms like bee farming,red bird eye chillies so that we can learn to stock our coffee and sale it in bulk, we believe that coffee well processed and bulked can NYC prices that ever in the local market


All ethical markets mean alot to the local farmers and they are a reason why we raise our voices nobody would know us without them . We like them and they help us network However , my bigest problem is that the producers foot the bills of the certification processes and still cant gaurantee if their products can be bought because the certifying agencies are different from the buyers. We believe that if all this ethicle markets come up with an agreed protocpl for all the producers to undertake so that there can be one strong certification that covers the inersts of all the stake holders than having this,that etc each with differnt protocols


With due respect we thank Progreso foundation for ntechnically supporting us unertake the above mentioned activities


the writer is

the Chairman/Founder

Coffee a cup Cooperative Society

Eastern Uganda

East Africa

tel +256 712 755 909/ 785 240 922

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