Coffee Sustainability

Climate Smart Coffee demonstrates how coffee production can be sustainable

climate smart coffee

Solidaridad’s Climate Smart Coffee projects demonstrate how coffee production can practically implement sustainable practices and reduce the risks presented by climate change.

For the coffee industry to combat climate change, it must first equip its producers with the tools, knowledge, and resources to mitigate their emissions and the impact it has on them.

In 2013, Solidaridad launched its Climate Smart Agriculture projects in Latin America, building a use case for how coffee production can practically implement practices that increase producers’ resilience and reduce carbon emissions. These projects have been run in several countries, including Colombia, Peru, and Mexico.

“Climate Smart Agriculture involves four main practices, the first of which is increasing the number of trees per hectare to achieve an optimal production point,” says Andrea Olivar, Strategy Director for Solidaridad in South America.

“When the plot they’re producing on is no longer providing good yields, farmers have sometimes been forced to expand into new areas. A possible solution is to be able to do more on less land, so they don’t need to expand into new areas and contribute to soil degradation and deforestation.”

Higher yields translate to increased profitability, better equipping producers to make sustainable changes on their farms. Olivar says this leads into the next two practices: agroforestry and fertiliser use.

“We’ve worked in several countries with unique production systems, so the three countries we’ve run these projects in have different challenges in delivering a climate smart agenda compared to others in the world,” she says.

“For instance, in Peru and Mexico, deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions because you’re no longer sequestering that carbon. But in Colombia and largescale producing countries like Brazil and Vietnam, deforestation is not the biggest contributor but fertiliser usage. Shade trees are also less common in Colombia than a region like Peru, so part of introducing Climate Smart Agriculture is education on optimal use of agroforestry and shade.”

Another large source of greenhouse gas emissions from coffee production in Colombia, Olivar says, comes from post-harvest processing. This includes from the crop residues generated during processing and anaerobic decomposition of wastewater, resulting in significant methane emissions. This is why more efficient wastewater treatment is the final practice Solidaridad identifies under its Climate Smart Agriculture.

Across the three countries, Solidaridad’s Climate Smart Coffee projects have involved 13,800 farmers and 20,000 hectares of farming land. On average, these producers have seen a 20 per cent increase of productivity and using satellite imaging, Solidaridad has monitored little to no deforestation. Olivar says the biggest sign of the project’s success is the high adoption rate among participating farmers.

“It’s very easy to reach out to tens of thousands of farmers and not be sure if they’re really adopting these practices, but we have data that shows producers are really adopting these climate smart practices,” she says.

Since Solidaridad launched its Climate Smart Coffee projects, climate change and carbon emissions have become major issues and talking points among not only the global coffee industry, but with business sectors and governments around the world. Olivar says over the years, Solidaridad has received increasing interest and support from coffee industry members looking to embrace Climate Smart Agriculture.

One of these companies is RGC Coffee, which has worked with Solidaridad in Colombia for the past eight years in multiple projects. Angela Pelaez, Director of Sustainability for RGC Coffee, tells Global Coffee Report the education and direct involvement of producers has been key.

“What we have seen through the methodologies Solidaridad has developed is that producers are more willing to implement these practices,” Pelaez says.

“Climate change is a big concept for a farmer living in a remote community. It’s a complex issue that many farmers don’t fully understand. If you have money, you can give it to the farmer and tell them to make these changes, but if they don’t understand what’s important, why they’re doing it, or the benefits to them, they won’t be able to do it. When you create awareness among the producers, to make them part of the solution, it’s different because they will be willing to create that change.”

The success of the Climate Smart Agriculture projects in Colombia has encouraged that state’s government, Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, National Association of Colombian Coffee Exporters to sign The Coffee, Forest & Climate Agreement. A key element of this agreement, to which Solidaridad is the technical secretariat, is a focus on climate adaptation through the establishment of climate smart and agroforestry production models.

“All that we are implementing, the projects with good results, is seen by roasters, other traders, and cooperatives, which presents the possibility for Climate Smart Coffee to be scaled up to other regions. In our case, some of the roasters that work with us have seen this is possible and ask how they can help introduce it to other regions they source from,” Pelaez says.

“All industries and citizens of the world have a responsibility when it comes to climate change, and it’s something no one can avoid. In coffee, it’s important to inspire more people and companies to be part of this journey of protecting the planet and working hand in hand with producers so that they’re willing to participate and to be part of the journey.”

Another coffee business involved in Solidaridad’s Climate Smart Coffee initiatives is ofi (Olam Food Ingredients) which played an important role in introducing the Climate Smart Agriculture projects to Peru.

“Climate change has become an emergency. Back in 2017 and 2018, when we started working with Solidaridad, we were not at the stage companies would make long-term commitments to get to net zero,” says Jeremy Dufour, Global Sustainability Projects Manager for coffee at ofi.

“The conversation started with climate resilience, making sure farmers can continue to produce coffee, but nowadays the discussion has turned to decarbonising the economy. Climate Smart Agriculture demonstrates practices on the ground that are ensuring resilience, improving livelihoods, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Dufour adds it’s also important to incentivise producers to adopt climate smart practices, often meaning more must be paid for coffee that has been sustainably produced.

“To be frank, you cannot ask a farmer who is, unfortunately, on the edge of survival to start investing in new practices to create value over the long-term, without seeing the immediate reward. They need to be sure there’s food on the table and they are getting a decent livelihood before even thinking about climate action,” he says.

“Farmers need to see their efforts rewarded and the value of their coffee recognised.”

Following the success of the Climate Smart Agriculture projects, Dufour says it’s important the global coffee industry works together to implement these practices on a global scale.

“Many of the practices under Climate Smart Agriculture have been known to the industry for a long time. What these projects bring are examples that it can work and the importance of helping the farmer understand how these practices can deliver benefits for both people and planet,” Dufour says.

“We should be tired of reading best practice case studies. There’s enough evidence that this approach works and we need to start changing on a global scale. We need to put competition aside and work much closer together to help farmers implement these changes. Climate Smart Agriculture at scale is what will really move the needle.”

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This article was first published in the January/February 2022 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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