Climate change adaptation, mitigation and livelihood benefits in coffee production: where are the synergies?

  • Eric RahnEmail author
  • Peter Läderach
  • María Baca
  • Charlotte Cressy
  • Götz Schroth
  • Daniella Malin
  • Henk van Rikxoort
  • Jefferson Shriver


There are worldwide approximately 4.3 million coffee (Coffea arabica) producing smallholders generating a large share of tropical developing countries’ gross domestic product, notably in Central America. Their livelihoods and coffee production are facing major challenges due to projected climate change, requiring adaptation decisions that may range from changes in management practices to changes in crops or migration. Since management practices such as shade use and reforestation influence both climate vulnerability and carbon stocks in coffee, there may be synergies between climate change adaptation and mitigation that could make it advantageous to jointly pursue both objectives. In some cases, carbon accounting for mitigation actions might even be used to incentivize and subsidize adaptation actions. To assess potential synergies between climate change mitigation and adaptation in smallholder coffee production systems, we quantified (i) the potential of changes in coffee production and processing practices as well as other livelihood activities to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, (ii) coffee farmers’ climate change vulnerability and need for adaptation, including the possibility of carbon markets subsidizing adaptation. We worked with smallholder organic coffee farmers in Northern Nicaragua, using workshops, interviews, farm visits and the Cool Farm Tool software to calculate greenhouse gas balances of coffee farms. From the 12 activities found to be relevant for adaptation, two showed strong and five showed modest synergies with mitigation. Afforestation of degraded areas with coffee agroforestry systems and boundary tree plantings resulted in the highest synergies between adaptation and mitigation. Financing possibilities for joint adaptation-mitigation activities could arise through carbon offsetting, carbon insetting, and carbon footprint reductions. Non-monetary benefits such as technical assistance and capacity building could be effective in promoting such synergies at low transaction costs.


Exposure to climate change Sensitivity to climate change Adaptive capacity Carbon footprint Carbon insetting Carbon offsetting Nicaragua 



This research was conducted under the CGIAR research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). We would like to thank Green Mountain Coffee Roasters for co-funding this study, the farmers in San Juan del Río Coco and the technicians of CORCASAN, UCPCO, PRODECOOP, UCA San Juan for their help in data collection and making the links to farmers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric Rahn
    • 1
    • 8
    Email author
  • Peter Läderach
    • 2
  • María Baca
    • 2
  • Charlotte Cressy
    • 3
  • Götz Schroth
    • 4
  • Daniella Malin
    • 5
  • Henk van Rikxoort
    • 6
  • Jefferson Shriver
    • 7
  1. 1.International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)CaliColombia
  2. 2.International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)ManaguaNicaragua
  3. 3.Flo-CertBonnGermany
  4. 4.SantarémBrazil
  5. 5.Sustainable Food LabHartlandUSA
  6. 6.Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR)WageningenNetherlands
  7. 7.Catholic Relief ServicesManaguaNicaragua
  8. 8.Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG)DübendorfSwitzerland

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