In the early days of July 2023, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) declared the onset of the El Niño phenomenon, confirming earlier predictions that gave it a high probability of nearly 60% of occurring in the latter half of the year. While commonly associated with elevated temperatures and drought, El Niño’s effects are not uniform, and its implications for various geographical and climatic regions can vary significantly.
The Coffee Industry’s Anticipation:
The coffee industry is closely watching for the repercussions of the El Niño phenomenon on current production and upcoming harvests. Its impact is becoming increasingly intricate, intertwining with the unique characteristics of coffee-producing regions. To comprehend this climatic phenomenon and the strategies to mitigate its effects, we spoke with three professionals from the industry.
Understanding El Niño’s Complexity:
El Niño is more than just a period of warmth and drought; it’s a natural event in the planet’s climate dynamics. Mariano, an agricultural engineer, explains that it involves the warming of a significant expanse of surface water in the Pacific Ocean. This warming can influence climate patterns around the world, resulting in diverse effects. For instance, it can lead to drought and high temperatures in some Pacific regions, while causing increased precipitation and lower temperatures in others.
Diverse Regional Impacts:
Different regions experience varied effects due to El Niño’s irregularities. Oscar, a coffee producer, mentions how in the Marcala region, El Niño leads to higher temperatures and extended periods of drought. On the Pacific side of Central America, as well as in northern Colombia and parts of Brazil, it’s linked to temperature increases and drought. Conversely, on the Atlantic side, areas like southern Colombia, Ecuador, and northern Peru experience higher rainfall and cooler temperatures during El Niño events.
Climate Challenges and Industry Adaptation:
The adoption of agroecology, organic coffee cultivation, and regenerative agriculture emerges as effective strategies to combat the challenges posed by the changing climate. Regardless of whether El Niño brings increased temperatures and drought or higher precipitation and lower temperatures, its impact disrupts natural crop cycles. Oscar explains that drought conditions can result in poor plant and bean development, reduced flowering, and even loss of production.
Mariano emphasizes that while phenomena like El Niño are unavoidable, certain variables are within producers’ control. Timing of harvest and renewal cycles, cultivated varieties, and agronomic practices can help mitigate the consequences of climate variability.
Shifts in Production Models:
In this context, tools such as regenerative agriculture, which prioritizes soil health, establish agricultural systems where crops function as interconnected and resilient ecosystems. Gally emphasizes that such approaches enable crop diversification, soil recovery against erosion and desertification, and improved protection against pests like the coffee borer beetle, which thrives under warmer and drier conditions.
Moreover, Gally stresses the significance of creating technical assistance platforms that facilitate knowledge sharing among coffee producers. Since many producers have small to medium-sized farms, collaboration is key. Successful implementation of regenerative coffee farming requires a collective learning process.
El Niño and the Latin American Coffee Landscape:
While El Niño’s declaration mid-year provides insight, a more precise assessment of its direct effects on regional coffee production will only be possible in December 2023. Experts from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predict a global temperature increase with El Niño’s arrival in 2023, potentially surpassing the 1.5°C warming threshold. European meteorological offices also forecast a strong El Niño impact, possibly setting a new global temperature record in 2024.
The projected impact on coffee prices is relative, given the potential variability in harvests across producing countries. Adjustments in response to supply and demand are likely. However, as Gally, Mariano, and Oscar all agree, small-scale coffee farmers are more vulnerable to these variations, facing challenging conditions compared to larger players in the industry.
A major focus of Latin American coffee farming in the short to medium term is empowering small producers to lead the transformation of coffee production systems. This necessitates providing tools, technical assistance, and financing to facilitate the development of production systems that protect ecosystems and reintegrate the concept of coffee forest cultivation.
With El Niño’s arrival, coffee producers must prepare for its effects and consequences. Access to information is essential for developing and implementing strategies that address this reality. The transformation needs to be comprehensive, encompassing market and consumption models that prioritize environmental care and consumer responsibility. As climatic phenomena persist, it’s evident that a holistic transformation of production systems is essential to mitigate their intensifying impacts.
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