Wed, May 16, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Brewing up some social justice

Global warming threatens the future of Peru’s poorest coffee farmers, but one brand thinks it has found an answer on the financial markets

By Lucy Siegle  /  The Observer, SIERRA PIURA, PERU

Illustration: Mountain People

In the foothills of the Andes, in the Sierra Piura region of Peru, the problems faced by coffee farmers are clear. Up to 6,600 farmers produce here for the Central Piurana de Cafetaleros cooperative (CEPICAFE), growing 4,000 tonnes a year of the finest Peruvian coffee on family plots scattered across the mountainside. Together, year in, year out, they bring in this special harvest, the arabica coffee cherries, which are painstakingly picked by hand, processed and dried in the sun.

However, thanks to “weather change,” a continual topic of conversation in the area, the harvest is unpredictable. Last year, there was too little rain in the region. This year there has been a deluge: in some areas an increase of 500 percent on the “norm.”

“I still think coffee is worthwhile,” 47-year-old Gusto Regis said. “It’s not yet as bad as 1983.”

That was when the El Nino weather system hit, and landslides and flooding drove his family away to find work laboring in an adjoining region.

“Of course we had no land and no money so we needed to come back. I don’t know what we would do if we had to leave again,” he said.

In the neighboring village, Alejandro Reyes Ruiz talks his co-farmers through a giant diagram he has drawn explaining likely “weather changes.” Paul Santos Santos, a 24-year-old trainee teacher, sings an instructive song about climate and coffee. I explain that where I come from not everybody thinks that climate change exists.

“They should come here and try to grow coffee,” Alejandro said.

Peru is rated among the top three nations likely to be most affected by climate change in the world by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.

In the Sierra Piura there have been many efforts to adapt, from the installation of a pulley system that takes coffee sacks across swollen rivers to fortifications of the local reservoir which have prevented two low-lying villages from being wiped out in a flash flood. However, as the uncertainties grow, so will the bill for tackling them.

A report published on Saturday by the UK’s leading ethical hot drinks brand Cafedirect (CEPICAFE is one of its suppliers) warns that the effects of climate change on arabica production are likely to lead to worldwide shortages and an exodus of small-scale producers from coffee growing. However the company, which was formed 21 years ago to protect small-scale producers from poverty after the price of coffee collapsed, has come up with a potential game changer: A unique way of playing the carbon market to the advantage of the poor that will fund long-term strategies to adapt to climate change.

Up in the Choco region, at an elevation of 3,100m, subsistence farmers — their lineage part Inca, part Spanish conquistador — are unexpectedly trading on the carbon market. In the village the air is full of the smell of wood stoves, which hints at what Choco’s big environmental -problem is: deforestation. As “weather change” hits, deforestation has exacerbated flash flooding. There is simply no buffer in Choco any longer and the coffee farmers 2,000m below are in danger of being wiped out as a consequence.

“Of course we approached the carbon market cautiously as it doesn’t have the best reputation and there was absolutely no blueprint,” Wolfgang Weinmann said, who is head of strategic development at Cafedirect and farmed coffee in Ecuador for a decade. Carbon-credit schemes are more associated with turbo-charged financial markets looking for a quick buck than with the poor on the front line, but as Cafedirect has worked with local non-governmental organizations, notably Progreso, they have built confidence.

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