Changing How We Cope with Climate Change: Inside UTZ Coffee Climate Care

This article is SCAA Collaborative Content in partnership with UTZ Certified

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Climate change, without a doubt, is the elephant in the room when it comes to specialty coffee. Arabica beans, with the complex web of variables affecting their quality, are known to be the “canary in the coal mine” of the changing face of agriculture. From powering the spread of rust, to reducing arable land and driving specialty coffee production to higher and higher altitudes, climate change is redrawing the coffee map, and it’s redrawing it now. There is no time left to wait.

UTZ Certified, an international certification program for sustainable farming, used to certify almost 50% of the world’s sustainable coffee, is on its way to changing how we address this vital problem with a pilot program called Coffee Climate Care (C3). The UTZ certification program for coffee, cocoa and tea currently reaches 500,000 farmers in 34 countries, and is used to train farmers in management, safety, and better agricultural practices as part of its mission to make sustainable farming the global norm.

Last year, UTZ, in partnership with the DE Foundation (an offshoot of D.E. Master Blenders 1753, the third largest coffee roaster in the world), launched C3 in Vietnam’s Lam Dong province. Vietnam, known for producing a high volume of Robusta often used in soluble products, is as-yet uncharted territory for specialty coffee.

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However, the effects of climate change, such as more erratic rainfall patterns, longer droughts and heavier rainfall in the wet seasons, do not distinguish among coffee varieties. The results of C3 are important to the entire industry, including specialty coffee. Making coffee production sustainable in the long run is of fundamental significance, as we know, not only so we can keep enjoying the quality of coffee we love, but for the livelihood of thousands of people around the globe.

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The C3 project consists of three stages: 1) assessing the climate vulnerability of coffee farmers in Vietnam and collecting relevant data on farms’ greenhouse gas emissions; 2) training of farmers on adaptation and mitigation measures; 3) development of recommendations for the UTZ coffee program regarding climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The impact of the Coffee Climate Care project reaches far beyond Vietnamese coffee farmers or even UTZ certified farmers in general. Systems and training materials developed for the project will be used for supporting the entire coffee sector in addressing climate change.

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SCAA spoke to Will Frith, independent specialty coffee researcher and trainer (and two-time Brewer’s Cup finalist), currently working in Vietnam regarding the project: “Certification schemes are the only real chance of concepts like specialty coffee or sustainability to gain traction…because of the ability to share and support through these structures. These schemes pave the way for bigger ideas to come into play. Until then, [producers] just do what they can to make it to the next year, whether it’s high-yield variety/species selection, strip-picking, chemical fertilizer and pesticide.”

All photography courtesy of UTZ Certified.

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