Coffee, Women and Climate Change: A Mounting Crisis

Coffee, Women and Climate Change: A Mounting Crisis

A new global energy crisis is fast approaching.  No, it’s not another surge in gas prices.  This time it’s even more personal;  it’s your morning cup of joe.

Coffee beans require a delicate balance of temperature and rainfall, both of which are projected to be greatly affected by Climate Change.  Indeed, in many vital coffee producing areas, impacts are already being felt as changing rain patterns and temperatures are stifling the industry’s attempts to boost production to meet rapidly rising demand.  Temperature increases in Central America and East Africa are also creating a more favorable environment for pests and diseases that target coffee beans, further challenging production.

Dr. Jamie Bechtel speaking on “The Gender and Youth Dimensions of Climate and Coffee” at the Hivos “Climate and Coffee: The Heat is on!” Conference. July 3, 2014

While you might be upset to know that your daily caffeine infusion is in peril, those who will truly bear the brunt of this crisis are the producers of coffee around the world.  From Brazil, to Uganda, to Vietnam, 70 percent of all coffee producers worldwide are smallholder farmers growing on 10 hectares or smaller; even small decreases in coffee yields can have a large impact on their livelihoods and the massive impacts Climate Change presents are greater than any smallholder is prepared to face.

Another often overlooked fact is that women provide the majority of labor inputs into small-scale production; often as much as 60-80 percent of the productive work.  Despite their vital role in coffee production, women often do not receive equal economic benefits; land, tools and market access are controlled by men and decisions at the community and household level are in men’s hands.

So what does women’s role in coffee production have to do with the coming crisis?

First, women are disproportionately vulnerable to the negative impacts that Climate Change will bring; as coffee harvests are diminished by disruptions in the delicate balance coffee beans require, lower yields will mean women will accrue even fewer economic gains than before from their labor.  Additionally, women will also be less able to adapt due to their lack of control over and access to key productive resources, such as land and farming tools or even training opportunities.

Second, and here’s the kicker, engaging women can be the key to increasing coffee yields and bolstering the security of the industry.  As women provide the majority of labor on small-scale coffee plantations, their engagement in trainings, decision-making and adaptation strategies is key to ensuring the future of coffee production in the most vulnerable areas. Additionally, studies have found that giving women equal access to productive resources, such as land, fertilizers, and tools, greatly boosts agricultural production.

New Course CEO Jamie Bechtel recently spoke at the Hivos Coffee Conference in Amsterdam on July 3rd, 2014.  The conference convened diverse stakeholders from throughout the industry to discuss strategies for tackling the challenges presented by Climate Change.  Dr. Bechtel’s talk focused on the often overlooked gender dimensions of coffee production, highlighted the increased vulnerability of women coffee producers to climate impacts, and challenged the conference to ensure that women are systematically engaged in and accrue benefits from mitigation and adaptation strategies.

If you want to learn more on the links between gender and vulnerability to Climate Change Click Here.  You can also see what New Course is doing to engage women in adaptation and mitigation strategies Here.

For more on the Hivos “Climate and Coffee: The Heat is on!” Conference, Click Here.


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