'You feel like something is dying': Climate change puts Colombian coffee production at risk

Coffee production in the area has shrunk by 35% in the last five years. Credit: Pexels

A multitude of challenges including climate change is putting coffee production “in danger”, according to farmers in Colombia, which is a major exporter to the UK.

Coffee farmers in the South American country’s Sierra Nevada mountain range say warming temperatures are forcing them to plant their crops on higher ground, while increasingly unpredictable rainfall cycles are affecting growth and harvesting logistics.

The region used to be free of coffee plant diseases but farmers say climate change means their plants are increasingly vulnerable to rust, brown eye spot or borer insects, further hitting their yields.

Production in the area has shrunk by 35% in the last five years, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Fairtrade Network (CLAC).

One Sierra Nevada farmer, Javier Ardila, 44, said coffee workers would wear coats in the afternoons 30 years ago but now temperatures reach around 28C.

Coffee farmers Yonatan Lopez, Jorge Marino, Jaime Garcia Florez, Yudis Camacho, Fernando Gutierrez and Richard Almanza Credit: PA

Arabica coffee can tolerate mean annual temperatures of up to 24C.

“We are natives of the Sierra Nevada and we feel really sad because we know every day is getting worse,” he said.

Another farmer, Jaime Garcia Florez, 59, from Siberia township, said producing coffee is now going to be “very hard” with warmer temperatures and increasingly unstable conditions.“We’re in danger because of climate change,” he said.

"We used to think it was something existential and far away, but now we see it is really here."

On top of these environmental challenges, farmers are facing tougher market conditions, with international prices dropping to around three dollars (£2.38) per kilogram from a high of more than five dollars (£3.96) per kilogram in early 2022.

Soaring fertiliser and higher labour costs also mean many are struggling to cover the cost of production this year.

More and more have been looking to other products such as cocoa and honey – which historically had been less profitable – to ensure they make ends meet.

Mr Ardila said: “Coffee could be destined to disappear. If the prices are not good, then we have to change to other crops.

“If after harvesting, you sell everything and you’re still in the same place, it’s very hard for you to continue in the business.”

Farmers also say young people in the area are moving away to find easier work, meaning the future of their way of life is even more uncertain.

On the emotional impact of these challenges, farmer Fernando Gutierrez, 48, said: “You feel like something is dying and you can’t avoid it.

“You see something dying little by little. That’s what we feel.”

The farmers are part of the Red Ecolsierra association – a Fairtrade organic co-operative that unites more than 400 farming families.

The organisation has been using Fairtrade Premium payments to help farmers invest in “agroforestry” systems, which involves planting a variety of trees among the crops to provide shade, bolster biodiversity and improve the soil as a way to save future production.

Red Ecolsierra is also introducing soil-friendly bioproducts, conservation projects, selling carbon credits, carrying out a wastewater decontamination project, providing member training and funding children’s education.

“Is it going to help us in the future? Maybe it won’t help us enough but we are trying,” Mr Garcia Florez said.

"We are trying to do our job.”

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