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Coffee to cocoa: Nicaraguan farmers adapt to climate change

News from Nicaragua | Thursday, 8 February 2018 |

Farmers like Ana Maria are converting to cacoa at lower altitudes where coffee is no longer viable because of rising temperatures.

Farmers like Ana Maria are converting to cacoa at lower altitudes where coffee is no longer viable because of rising temperatures.

Ana Maria Gonzalez owns an eight acre, organic smallholding in the hills of northern Nicaragua where she grows coffee for export through Fairtrade and grows beans and vegetables for her family. She is also one of the 650 members of a co-operative called SOPPEXCCA.

Climate change is a dramatic reality in Nicaragua, one of the most affected countries in the world. Ana Maria describes what this means for farmers: “It’s far too hot and then we get too much rain straight after dry spells, which ruins our crops. It provides ideal conditions for leaf rust and other diseases, affecting many crops but principally coffee. The impact of leaf rust was similar to an earthquake, as 40% of the 2014 production was affected.”

“The unpredictable weather means that we can’t plan our planting or harvesting. When it’s too hot or dry we can’t plant or fertilise the plants. This means our harvest is smaller and we earn less. It becomes a vicious circle as less income means less investment to combat the diseases that have increased as a result of weather extremes. We end up abandoning other crops to look after our coffee, our only cash crop and source of income. This can lead to food insecurity as we are not prioritising crops we plant for consumption.”

However, as climate change is better understood, adaptation and mitigation programmes are being developed by the government and NGOs such as SOPPEXCCA. Scientists predict that as temperatures rise, large areas of lower land will no longer be suitable for coffee, a phenomenon already being experienced by Nicaraguan farmers. However, cocoa grows well in these areas.

With the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) predicting that demand for cocoa will increase by 30% in the next ten years, SOPPEXCCA, with funding from Christian Aid, is working with 400 farmers on a cocoa conversion project.

Ana Maria is one of the participants: “Cocoa is providing us with a security blanket. It has the advantage of being easy to grow and produces two crops a year. In addition we are diversifying in whatever way we can: we grow oranges and plantains to sell, and plant corn, beans and vegetables for our own consumption.

We are also working on mitigation measures such as reforestation, campaigning against deforestation, planting more shade trees to protect the coffee, and building water storage tanks.”

The cocoa conversion project also includes agroforestry to combat deforestation and soil erosion, and the installation of mini weather stations to monitor climate change.

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