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World Environment Day 2014: How climate change affects the poor and why it matters

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In recognition of the United Nations’ World Environment Day (June 5), we take a look at how climate change affects the poor.

“Without the coffee, [the farmers] would have to sell their land,” Alvaro Gomez Ferreto told us during his recent visit to our Seattle office. “They need to sell coffee to generate revenue.”

Mr. Gomez is the general manager of Coocafe, a coffee cooperative in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, Costa Rica is one of the countries that has been hardest hit by Coffee Leaf Rust. It’s a disease that kills off coffee plants’ leaves, crippling their ability to produce coffee cherries and in many cases, killing the entire plant.

Coffee Leaf Rust has devastated smallholder coffee farmers throughout Central America and parts of South America; it’s estimated that 500,000 coffee-related jobs and $1 billion in revenue have been lost. But as terrible as this disease is, many believe that its effects were exacerbated by an even larger threat: climate change.  

Climate change's impact on smallholder farmers 

In recent months, there have been many reports detailing the effects of climate change, including changing weather patterns. For coffee farmers, that has meant higher-than-average rainfall, which is believed to have spread the Coffee Leaf Rust’s spores and caused them to multiply. This is just one example of how the poor will pay heavy consequences for damage to the climate.

Another example is how poor countries are less equipped to deal with extreme weather events, such as super storms and droughts. “The world’s poorest regions […] have the least economic, institutional, scientific and technical capacity to cope and adapt,” says a World Bank Report.

Why it matters

Poverty reduction and climate change are linked,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim last year. “We could witness the rolling back of decades of development gains and force tens of millions more to live in poverty.” We echo his sentiments. It’s for these reasons that Global Partnerships is keeping an eye on the climate change landscape, in addition to political and economic developments.

In the case of Coffee Leaf Rust, we’re currently exploring longer-term loans to partners. Longer-term loans to our partners would facilitate longer-term credit for farmers affected by Coffee Leaf Rust. Farmers would then be able to use that credit to replant their crops with rust-resistant strains of coffee.      

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Blog Tags: climate change   coffee   coffee farmers   Coffee Leaf Rust   La Roya   Latin America   smallholder farmers   World Environment Day   

Claudio Vasquez has been a member of RAOS since 2004.
Claudio Vasquez has been a member of RAOS, a GP partner, since 2004. He sells 80% of his coffee to RAOS because they guarantee good prices and financial support when needed, in addition to technical support and education for personal growth. Photo © Global Partnerships.

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