Protecting the future of coffee with World Coffee Research
The future of our brews, and the livelihoods of those who produce it, face increasing threats from climate change, diseases and low yields. If we want the industry and the people that work in it to prosper, we need to look closely at how tea and coffee is produced and find farming techniques, and plants, that will survive and thrive in years to come.
Based on my field observations in the different regions of the country, coffee farmers are highly constrained with unpredictable prolonged dry seasons and shorter rainy seasons requiring expensive measures such as mulching and irrigation, making coffee farming a capital intensive venture. This is accompanied with perseverance of diseases such as coffee leaf rust that occur in farmer fields mainly in the dry season leading to great losses/reduction in coffee yields.
A research-based approach
Tea and coffee farmers around the world are already seeing glimpses of what the worst effects of climate change are going to bring. Droughts and flooding, declining yields of quality produce and devastating diseases mean that farmers often struggle to make a decent living from their crop. As events like these increase with global warming, more and more producers will find that growing tea or coffee isn’t a viable source of income.
To address these changes, we urgently need to work with our suppliers on new and innovative approaches to farming. Which is why we’re proud to be championing the work of World Coffee Research (WCR), a collaborative organisation which enables the global coffee industry to invest in agricultural innovation to empower producers.
WCR combine cutting edge research and development with a focus on farmers to try and get the best new agronomy approaches and varieties into farmers’ hands as soon as possible. We support WCR’s portfolio of collaborative research and are proud to be funding farmer field trials across key countries in East Africa. Through these trials, WCR will work with farmers in our supply chain, using their land as trial plots to test different coffee varieties and farming techniques. As well as contributing to a global research effort, these trials will help the farmers involved to implement better practices as they see the research in action, and to share their knowledge with co-farmers.
Over time, World Coffee Research’s (WCR) work in Uganda has brought tools and approaches to accelerate progress in coﬀee agricultural research and mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, we have the, nursery development program which is aimed at building the capacity of nurseries to produce adequate volumes of genetically pure and healthy seedlings to farmers. WCR has also established the international multi-location variety trails to see how varieties respond to diﬀerent soil and climatic conditions – including extreme environments with long dry periods, which mimic the changing climate coﬀee.
Teaching in the heart of production
Training in good production techniques and farming practices can help farmers to be more resilient to the effects of climate change and more profitable. One of the best tools we’ve come across to share this knowledge is farmer field schools.
Farmer Field Schools are ‘classrooms without walls’ that provide training for farmers in all manner of skills, from adopting good agricultural practices for increased production and reducing soil erosion, to improving leaf quality.
Farmers are also encouraged to diversify their crops so that they can earn an income from other produce. These crops can provide farmers with food for their families and for sale.
Through the Farmer Field Schools, farmers also take lessons in business skills and record keeping too, so they’ll have the tools they need to turn their land into profitable businesses.
Since 2014 we’ve worked with the Ethical Tea Partnership to train almost 2,500 farmers through 75 Farmer Field Schools at the cooperatives associated with three factories.