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

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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.

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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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Correspondence to Eric Rahn.

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Rahn, E., Läderach, P., Baca, M. et al. Climate change adaptation, mitigation and livelihood benefits in coffee production: where are the synergies?. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 19, 1119–1137 (2014).

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