Two women working in a tree nursery, in Kenya

Fairtrade launches coffee farmers’ guide to battling climate change

Fairtrade Africa has developed a Climate Academy Guide for coffee farmers in Eastern and Central Africa, to enable them to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change for sustainable production.

Drawing from the experiences of 8,500 coffee farmers from eight smallholder producer organisations in Kenya, the Climate Academy Guide provides practical information to equip farmers with the skills and insights to conduct environmental risk and opportunity assessments on their farms, identify the extent to which they are exposed to the effects of climate change, and determine the most effective approaches to reduce its harmful effects.

As the impacts of climate change become pronounced globally – more so in the agricultural sector, where farmers are grappling with variable and unfavorable weather conditions – there is a need to boost farmers’ capacity to adapt to the changing conditions. This can be done by increasing their resources and knowledge, and by supporting individuals and organisations to respond appropriately to climate change risks. Fairtrade’s Climate Academy Guide helps achieve this, by providing information that can be adapted to suit coffee farmers in diverse geographical locations. 

The Climate Academy Guide outlines best farm practices such as soil and water management, waste management, energy use, coffee tree management and on-farm forestry. It was developed by Fairtrade Africa with the support of Fairtrade Netherlands, the Dutch Postcode Lottery and with the expert input of the Coffee Research Institute – a state corporation in Kenya part of whose key mandate is to carry out on-station and on-farm research for improved coffee production and technology, and provide answers to foreseeable problems.

Agapeters Kubasu, Operations Manager for Fairtrade Africa’s Eastern and Central Africa Network, said: ‘The Climate Academy Guide documents best practices that farmers can implement on their own to address the effects of climate change. From early 2019, we have seen farmers embrace recommended practices related to soil and water conservation, waste management, energy management and on-farm forestry. This has in turn progressively resulted in the regeneration of the natural systems that sustains their livelihoods in the long run. We look forward to seeing the practices documented in the guide rolled out to other producers within and without the Fairtrade system.’

Peter d’Angremond, CEO of Fairtrade Netherlands, added: ‘The launch of the Climate Academy Guide marks an exciting moment in the Climate Academy Project. Although developed for Eastern and Central Africa, this guide is an open-source document that shares learning and trainings for all coffee farmers worldwide. We hope that through wide-spread sharing of the learnings from this project, all coffee farmers will be able to benefit, improve their businesses and adapt to the changing climate.’

A creative tool

Designed as a creative climate change education tool, the Climate Academy Guide equips farmers in rural communities with skills to evaluate the changes that have taken place in their farms, including changes in weather patterns over time (such as prolonged dry spells and excessive rains), higher incidences of pests and crop diseases, and subsequently plunging crop productivity. They then develop a risk assessment matrix and, based on this, determine what activities are needed to reduce the vulnerability of coffee bushes (adaptation) and to limit global warming and its related effects (mitigation).

Lessons from the Climate Academy Guide are applicable to other coffee farmers around Eastern and Central Africa. To facilitate their uptake, Fairtrade Africa has translated the Climate Academy Guide into three other languages commonly used in the region; Swahili, French and Amharic. The guide has further been converted into eight short training videos, which will be made available to coffee producer organisations in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda to facilitate learning for rural farmers.

Adoption of recommendations outlined in the Climate Academy Guide has already seen farmers from Fairtrade certified coffee producer organisations in Kenya take up sustainable agricultural practices such as pruning, shading, mulching and water harvesting. This has resulted in healthier coffee crop and as a result better yield, with farmers citing a production increase of 28% per bush. Farmers have also embraced their role in mitigating some of the drivers of climate change, with households adopting solar energy, bio-gas and briquettes in place of wood fuel and kerosene, thereby reducing reliance on firewood.

‘Teachings from the Climate Academy Guide are impactful because we have seen farmers plant trees, diversify their sources of income, and want to learn more to adapt to the changing climatic patterns,’ said James Ndeto, Project Manager at Machakos Cooperative Union.      

‘Because the weather patterns change very fast, it is important to be prepared so that you are ready for any change in the climate. In my farm now, I am taking advantage of the rains and have cut trenches to harvest surface run off and store it for future use when it is hot and dry,’ added Stephen Mutie Kilonzo, a coffee farmer at Musilili Farmers Cooperative Society.

Ongoing impact

The Climate Academy Guide was delievered as part of the Climate Academy Project aimed at empowering farmers to adapt effectively to the changing climatic patterns threatening the future of coffee. The 3-year (2018-2020) project was implemented among eight producer organisations in Kenya with the following results:

  • Farmers around Machakos now have about 20% more shade trees on their coffee fields, which protect the coffee plants from the increasing heat of the sun.
  • A total of 1,300 new, more efficient cooking appliances have been installed; 300 families have switched to briquettes made from coffee processing waste and 280 families have installed a biogas unit. Women reported that with the new cooking appliances they save 40% in time and need 60% less firewood, leading to less deforestation.
  • More than 15% of the families involved have already taken up other activities, such as raising chickens or growing fruit and vegetables for sale. In order to invest in these new activities, women in particular have formed saving and credits groups together. Around Machakos some 50 groups together have more than 1,000 members, with a combined savings budget of US$160,000.
  • About 70 young people in the Machakos region have been trained as masons and technicians in the construction of the biogas units. Repairs and further service afterwards keep the young people permanently employed, making them less likely to leave the villages for uncertain jobs in the cities.


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