The undeniable impacts of climate change lend an urgency to Earth Day. In Mexico, as well as throughout Latin America, coffee farmers have been dealing with an outbreak of coffee leaf rust, a debilitating disease that has been able to spread quicker due to changing weather patterns and higher temperatures. Farmers in Mexico are recovering from leaf rust disease and increasing their resilience to climate change thanks to a project by Fairtrade, CLAC and Lidl Germany.
Small-scale farmers in rural areas are among those hit hardest by climate change. One clear example of this was the devastating spread of leaf rust across Latin America in recent years, an outbreak helped by rising temperatures, partly due to climate change. In Mexico, the fungal disease meant farmers lost around 40 percent of their crop in 2012. It continues to pose a serious challenge to their livelihoods.
Tiemelonla Nich Klum cooperative (TNK), located in the Mexican highlands in Chiapas was one of the small-scale cooperatives hit by this outbreak. The cooperative, which produces organic and Fairtrade coffee, lost around 60 percent of their harvest in 2014-15. Some members lost up to half of their coffee plants to the disease. Many of the farmers, who have had little to invest in renovating their plots over the years, had very old coffee bushes and often couldn't apply good agricultural practices, increasing their vulnerability to leaf rust and other climate change impacts.
Fairtrade International and the regional producer network, CLAC, recently partnered with this group to launch a project called 'Supporting Indigenous Organic Coffee Producers in Mexico Adapt to Climate Change', with funding from Lidl Germany, a German grocery chain. The one-year-project (August 2015 – August 2016) aims to enable TNK cooperative to recover from the impacts of leaf rust and increase their resilience to climate change.
The project has three main components:
- Increasing farmers’ awareness and knowledge on climate change
- Planting 125,000 coffee plants to revitalize members’ farms
- Training for farmers on good agricultural practices (coffee renovation, integrated pest management, fertilization and soil nutrition)
So far, 27 lead farmers have received climate change training, which they will then use to train other members. Sixteen of these farmers also participated in training on climate change issues specific to coffee, such as choosing suitable coffee varieties, replacing aging coffee bushes, monitoring leaf rust, and soil fertility. As a result of this training, TNK has developed a climate change adaptation plan, and has also decided to plant a new variety of coffee, which is more resistant to leaf rust and sells for a higher price at market. Farmer field schools are also underway.
Members of the cooperative are eager to apply the newly gained knowledge, to help secure their future in coffee farming: “If we don’t consider how the climate is changing, all the hard work of the members will be lost and there will be no production,” said Adolfo Lopez Álvaro, member of TNK.
Read more about Fairtrade’s work on climate change