Toxicity Translations

Group MPs Across the Globe: Coffee and Climate Change
by Abigail McEwen -- July 7th, 2014

This summer, MEM students have traveled across the globe for summer internships associated with group Masters Projects (MPs). The “Group MPs Across the Globe” blog series will highlight their adventures living and working in various locations throughout the world. 

This week, we check in with the “Coffee and Climate Change” project in Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru. 

If you are like me, then chances are that your day doesn’t officially start until you have had your first cup of coffee. Whether drunk black or loaded with copious amounts of sugar and cream, coffee is responsible for keeping many of us going throughout the work day.

So if you guzzle as much coffee as I do, you may have noticed that coffee prices have been increasing these past few months. And for good reason, as drought, flooding, and other environmental changes have created a tight supply of coffee beans, threatening not just us coffee addicts, but coffee producers and the global coffee supply chain.

But have no fear coffee lovers, because a group of Duke MEM students are working on this problem!

Exploring a coffee field in San Joaquín, Colombia. (Photo by Mike Younis)

A coffee field in San Joaquín, Colombia (Photo by Mike Younis).

They call themselves the Coffee Climate Ambassadors and this summer they have traveled to Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru to work on their Masters Project, which seeks to understand the effects of climate change on smallholder coffee producers and the best strategies used to adapt to these changes. This research is certainly beneficial to us coffee lovers, but more importantly, it is beneficial to the farmers and communities who rely on this crop for their living.

To accomplish this daunting task, the Coffee Climate Ambassadors are working closely with Durham’s very own Counter Culture Coffee. With the support of this client, the Coffee Climate Ambassadors have been busy interviewing farmers, coffee cooperatives, and major stakeholders throughout the summer. By using tools such as surveys and focus groups, they can begin to understand how coffee producers are best adapting to climate change related issues, such as changing temperatures and precipitation levels.

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Students with coffee farmers in San Joaquín, Colombia – left to right: Maria Jesus Idnigo, Martín Ramírez, Gilardo Uribe Sarria, Edixon Yamith Alegria, Mike Younis (Photo by Mike Younis).

One of the issues the team has encountered is “coffee rust”, a fungus that attacks the leaf of the coffee plant. While fighting off this disease, the plant will produce fewer and smaller coffee beans, yielding a lower crop for the farmers. To adapt to this disease, farmers are increasingly growing plants that have greater rust resistance, but produce a lower quality ban. You can read their full report on coffee rust in Peru here.

Another issue facing coffee producers is the coffee borer beetle, locally known as the broca pest.

Coffee farmer, Arismendiz Vargas, shows off coffee fruits afflicted with the broca pest in Guayabal, Colombia. (Photo by Mike Younis).

Coffee farmer, Arismendiz Vargas, shows off coffee fruits afflicted with the broca pest in Guayabal, Colombia (Photo by Mike Younis).

Interested in learning more about the research and adventures of the Coffee Climate Ambassadors? Follow them on Facebook and read more stories on their blog.

Coffee fruits from a 6 year old Caturra tree on the farm of Nixon Yamin Tobar Pacheco in Guayab​al, Colombia ( Photo by Mike Younis).

Coffee fruits from a 6 year old Caturra tree on the farm of Nixon Yamin Tobar Pacheco in Guayab​al, Colombia ( Photo by Mike Younis).

Special thanks to the Coffee Climate Ambassadors for letting us share their photography and research on this blog. 

2 Comments

  1. Sue Elliott
    Jul 8, 2014

    Interesting, & well written article on two of my favorite interests- coffee drinking & climate change.

  2. Robin Lane
    Jul 9, 2014

    I had noticed that coffee prices have been climbing, but had no idea why. Climate change is not going away, and I am glad that the Duke Climate Ambassadors are researching its impact on the coffee industry. This post gives a succinct and compelling explanation of the current challenges facing the coffee industry in Latin America.

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