Updated on April 10, 2019

Climate change isn’t a far off problem for people in other countries. It’s a global concern that will affect us all. It’s particularly bad news for coffee, cocoa and tea production with the potential to reduce yields and quality and push up prices. We spoke to climate change expert Henriette Walz to find out how the UTZ program is supporting farmers in producing countries to deal with the effects of climate change.

Bad news for coffee, tea and cocoa

Cracked land with plant - climate change

Coffee, cocoa and tea are all crops that need very specific conditions to thrive. Changes in temperature, rainfall and access to water due to climate change can all affect yields and crop quality.

As Henriette explains: “Climate change can be an environmental disaster for producers in many tropical and subtropical regions. We’re seeing more pests and diseases, more frequent droughts and unpredictable rainfall, which makes it difficult for farmers to plan and manage activities like harvesting. Many areas will become too hot and dry to grow these crops at all.”

Helping farmers adapt to climate change

The good news is that sustainable agricultural practices can help farmers adapt. Henriette uses a simple metaphor to explain the concept of adaptation. “If you need to go outside when it’s raining, you can’t stop the rain but you can wear a raincoat. That’s adaptation. With climate change, we can’t stop it happening but we can help farmers adapt so they cope better with its effects.”

Coffee farmer plants shade trees on his UTZ certified coffee farm in Vietnam.

Planting shade trees to protect coffee plants

There are many types of adaptation in the UTZ Code of Conduct. Planting shade trees is one example. These taller plants, such as banana or avocado, provide shade, lowering the air temperature around the crops and protecting the soil against erosion and heavy rainfall. Furthermore, diversification to other crops provides an additional income for farmers. Improved irrigation and good soil management are also examples.

This can make a big difference. Henriette: “By Impact on better crop in the coffee sector in colombiaadopting the UTZ Code of Conduct farmers can become more resilient to climate change. A study with coffee farmers in Colombia, for example, found that over a period of three years with very adverse weather conditions, non-UTZ group farmers saw a drop in yields of over 50% while UTZ farmers’ yields fell by just 1%. This gives us hope that farmers that implement good agricultural practices will be able to cope better with climate change.”

Mapping risks

The impact of climate change can be different depending on a farmer’s location and crop. That’s why we also ask farmer groups to carry out a risk assessment for their specific situation. Through this process they identify which measures will best help them adapt to climate change. This bottom-up approach to climate planning creates a sense of ownership and we’ve found it increases motivation among producers to implement climate-smart practices.

Climate adaptation workshop

Farmers in a climate change adaptation workshop in Vietnam

Is adaptation enough?

One third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, so farmers also have a role to play in supporting global efforts to tackle climate change. The UTZ Code of Conduct incentivizes farmers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, for example by preventing deforestation, improving waste management and reducing the use of fertilizers on the farm. This is known as mitigation.

Creating change at sector level

Yet to address the challenges related to climate change all actors have to work together. Often changes in government policy or the way companies operate are needed as well as working with whole landscapes or entire farming communities.

That’s why we’re involved in a large program of sector level partnerships, bringing together farmers, traders, buyers, civil society, governments and others. With pilot projects in nine countries addressing six themes including climate change, these partnerships will help to bring about change on sector level.

Pilots in Malawi and Nicaragua

In Malawi for example, we partnered with the Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the Tea Research Foundation to predict the impact of climate change on tea production in the country. These impact maps highlight the urgent need for the sector to work together to identify and implement adaptation measures.

Another example is our pilot project in Nicaragua. Here we work with the coffee producer association Cafenica and the Center for Tropical Agriculture. The project supports small farmers by for example, giving early warnings if certain pests or diseases are likely to break out. It also engages farmers in collecting data, e.g. on the weather that they can use to better plan certain agricultural practices, like fertilizing their crops.

Sosial media visual - climate change cocoaWhat can you do?

As a member of the UTZ program you are already helping to secure the long-term supply of coffee, tea and coca. Our climate change marketing toolkit is full of resources to tell consumers and colleagues how sustainable sourcing helps tackle climate change. Use the easy–to-grasp information, farmer testimonials, stories and social media posts to build your own sustainability story.