Tag Archives: Climate change

Are forests the answer to an uncertain future for coffee?

Our morning cup of coffee is under threat from climate change, scientists have warned. Although projections vary on the crop’s capacity to adapt to rising global temperatures, it is certain that the areas with a suitable climate for coffee cultivation will significantly shrink in the upcoming decades, challenging global production capacity. Moreover, heatwaves and unreliable rainfall generate conditions in which pests and diseases that can devastate coffee plantations thrive, such as the coffee leaf rust.

Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world, consumed by one third of the global population. But while climate change will deprive caffeine-hooked consumers; the worst consequences will be felt by around 125 million people directly involved in coffee production and trade, including many smallholder farmers who depend on it to secure their livelihoods.

Bienfait Kambale studies Yangambi’s herbarium coffee collection. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR

Facing an uncertain future, major coffee companies and concerned public entities have mobilized funding to support innovation and adaptation initiatives to ensure the industry continues to thrive. However, they might be overlooking a hidden treasure in Africa’s tropical forests.

Global coffee production is based on two species: Coffea arabica, known as Arabica coffee, and Coffea canephora, or Robusta coffee. Arabica, which grows in cool high-altitude climates, is the most expensive and appreciated species, used in specialty coffee and high-grade blends. Robusta, which grows in hot and humid climates, is in general less appreciated, found in cheaper blends and as instant coffee.

Because Arabica production is more profitable, most coffee research focuses on this variety, but scientists with the Meise Botanic Garden (Meise BG) in Belgium are challenging the trend, suggesting that the more resistant Robusta might instead hold the key to the coffee industry’s future.

Baristas’ ugly duckling

While Coffea arabica was first discovered in Ethiopia, Coffea canephora’s natural habitats are West and Central Africa’s tropical forests. In fact, recent genetic studies show that Coffea arabica is a hybrid of Coffea canephora and Coffea eugenioides – both species naturally occurring in the Congo Basin, thus making it the homeland of modern coffee production.

Yangambi’s coffee propagation batteries will soon be rehabilitated. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR

However, while Arabica was cultivated as early as the 12th century, Robusta plantations only popped up at the beginning of the 20th century as Europeans took interest in the genetic diversity found in Africa, which could lead to improved production in Asia and other tropical regions. Currently, it is estimated that 40 percent of the world’s consumed coffee beans are Robusta.

“Because Robusta has more caffeine and a more pronounced bitter flavor, it is less appreciated by consumers,” explained Filip Vandelook, researcher at Meise BG. “But in fact, there is potential to develop higher quality Robusta, for example, through breeding with wild populations.”

“Because Robusta thrives in warm and humid climates, and a low altitude, this species might be less vulnerable to climate change,” added Piet Stoffelen, director of Collections at Meise BG and an expert in coffee diversity in Central and West Africa. Therefore, according to him, Robusta’s market share will grow, and within 10 years it could represent more than 50 percent of global coffee production.

If more investments are made in Robusta’s pre- and post-harvest processing optimization, this species could become more appreciated by consumers and profitable for farmers, explained Vandelook. “Robusta’s potential remains largely understudied – and that’s what we are trying to change.”

The Congo Basin’s botanic treasures

Supported by the European Union, and in partnership with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Meise BG specialists are working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s Yangambi Biosphere Reserve to discover the secrets of forest coffee.

Ithe Mwanga Mwanga adds new wild coffee species to Yangambi’s herbarium. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR

This 235,000 ha forest reserve, located in northeast DRC, once hosted the world’s most reputable research station for the study of tropical agriculture. In its heyday, from the 1930s until 1960, the center hosted an important coffee program specialized in Coffea canephora. Botanists developed a well-documented live collection of wild coffee species, classified hundreds of dried coffee leaves in a world-class herbarium, and conducted many breeding experiments to develop a crop that would be more resistant to unpredictable climate and pests.

But as DRC descended into decades of political instability and conflict, most of this knowledge was lost. Although the living collection and dried samples remain, they need to be revived and modernized. Moreover, the center’s infrastructure needs urgent renovations to facilitate new research and conservation of these important genetic resources.

This is why Meise BG is working with the Congolese Institute for Agronomic Studies (INERA) to ensure that Yangambi will once again become an international hub for the study and conservation of coffee.

“DRC’s existing resources are a strong foundation to put it at the forefront of Robusta research,” said Stoffelen.

“We are renovating the infrastructure, updating the collections, and digitalizing the dried samples,” added Vandelook. “But most importantly, we are launching new research to better understand Robusta’s potential to thrive in a climate change context.”

Consequently, Meise BG’s team of Congolese and Belgian researchers is studying Yangambi’s wild coffee species and providing new genetic resources in a quest to improve Robusta’s properties.

“A simple walk in Yangambi’s forest can lead you to the discovery of new species,” said Bienfait Kambale, a botanist with Meise BG. “The natural wealth of this place is highly relevant to solve the challenges that coffee faces today.”

A fresh start

Until the late 1980s, DRC was one of the world’s most important coffee producers, but output gradually declined during the Mobutu regime and the subsequent wars. However, as the country stabilizes, DRC’s coffee industry is once again slowly taking off. The eastern part of the country, characterized by a mild weather and hilly landscapes, provides the perfect setting for Arabica plantations. However, there is also an enormous potential to grow coffee in the country’s lowland regions, according to Meise BG scientists.

“We hope that in the near future our research can support producers and contribute to develop DRC’s coffee industry,” said Vandelook.

“Coffee production could support DRC’s economy and become a driver of development – with Yangambi playing an important role,” added Stoffelen.

This research was supported by the European Union

This article was originally published on Forests News. Read here.

Digital tools help Africa mitigate climate disasters

[NAIROBI] Satellite imagery is helping African countries predict and mitigate extreme weather events and natural disasters such as floods, storms and famine, a conference has heard.

Extreme weather events are increasing on the continent, with droughts proving the deadliest, followed by floods, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. From 2000-2019, 46,000 people were killed and 337 million were affected by 1143 disasters on the continent.

In March 2019, Cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira city, Mozambique and its heavy rains and strong winds caused flash flooding, hundreds of deaths, and massive destruction of property and crops.

Almost six weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth dealt a hard blow to northern Mozambique. The two storms’ flooding affected close to 2.2 million people in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

“The digital tools … help African countries to know the real impact of calamities, thereby facilitating the [estimation of] affected compensation precisely.”

Mohamed Beavogui, The African Risk Capacity

At the African Risk Capacity conference held in Nairobi last week (13 February), digital strategies for climate and disaster risk management were highlighted.

‘‘The digital tools … help African countries to know the real impact of calamities, thereby facilitating the [estimation of] affected compensation precisely,’’ says Mohamed Beavogui, director-general of the African Risk Capacity, an agency formed by the African Union to help African governments improve their disaster risk management.

Beavogui adds that digital tools such as satellite imagery are used to analyse disasters for prompt action, especially from countries worst affected.

Beauogui tells SciDev.Net that the African Risk Capacity has drought risk software that helps countries quantify their disaster risk and monitor the impacts of droughts.

Mutembei Kainga, a senior meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department, explains that there are several tools for modelling extreme weather conditions.

“These tools give a percentage of probability of occurrence,” says Kainga, adding that a value of 30 per cent means that a disaster is not likely, 60 per cent means it is likely and above 60 per cent means it is most likely.

Mutembei says that many professionals have developed mobile apps that predict weather and advise farmers about rain patterns, but there are still problems such as high illiteracy, poverty, and lack of technical know-how that negatively impact their use.

The African Risk Capacity has established a capacity building programme for African countries that are at risk of extreme weather due to climate change, to help them access a comprehensive disaster risk management and financing system, such as insurance and funds that can help in responding rapidly to disasters, he explains.

For example, the African Risk Capacity provided US$36.8 million to four African countries — Malawi, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal — that have seen at least 2.1 million people affected by drought, the conference heard.

Drought is the single most important natural hazard in Kenya, according to the African Risk Capacity. Between 2008 and 2011, drought caused damages and losses of an estimated US$12.1 billion.

James Oduor, chief executive officer of the National Drought Management Authority, says that supporting early monitoring of climate change risks improves preparations to deal with natural disasters.
Odour tells SciDev.Net that after assessing drought, there is a need to provide disaster risk financing.

But he adds that many existing disaster-risk instruments in Kenya are limited by inadequate funding and limited geographical coverage.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

Women in climate hotspots face hardships as men migrate

[CAPE TOWN] Women in poor households of climate change-prone communities face more challenges including shouldering additional household responsibilities and, gender wage gaps when their men migrate to other communities, a study says.

According to researchers, environmental risks including droughts, floods, land erosion, landslides and cyclones confront residents of climate change hotspots but the extent to which women adapt to these conditions as their spouses migrate remain understudied.

“Critical here are labour market inequalities including gender wage gaps [and] low quality work for women,” says Nitya Rao, a professor of gender and development at the UK-based University of East Anglia and the lead researcher of the study. “While some social protection does exist and is very important, this is often not universal so the most vulnerable and those with no social contacts or in remote regions might get left out.”

Poverty is a factor that makes it difficult for women to adapt because poor households generally tend to have fewer assets or resources to fall back on, Rao explains.

“Critical here are labour market inequalities including gender wage gaps [and] low quality work for women.”

Nitya Rao, University of East Anglia

The study published last month (25 November) in Nature Climate Change analysed data on women’s ability to make meaningful choices and strategic decisions as it impacts their adaptation responses.

The researchers examined 25 case studies from Africa — Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Namibia and Senegal, and Asia — Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

“My husband is sometimes away for four to five days. I manage the shop, cook and look after the children. I have no help,” says a 22-year-old Kenyan woman with two children who was cited in the study.

Chanda Gurung Goodrich, a senior gender specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal, whose work was included in the study, agrees that women left behind in stressful environments are burdened with household and care responsibilities, farm work and taking over tasks previously meant for men.

Rao says that across the countries, governments’ provision of essential services such as drinking water, clean energy, childcare and healthcare facilities is grossly inadequate, thus constraining women’s choices.

Social institutions do not work in tandem with each other. Rather, they intensify inequalities, Rao adds.

For example, if women have to spend more time collecting fuel or fodder, or performing other reproductive tasks, they are further disadvantaged in the choice of income earning opportunities, she explains.

Virginie Le Masson, a research associate with the Overseas Development Institute, who has done similar work in Chad, tells SciDev.Net: “A powerful message is the need to move beyond initiatives that aim to support local women to adapt to climate change only, whereas the underlying causes of their everyday struggle remain unchallenged.”

“To say that women are powerful agents of change is true but it is useless if investments are not made in sectors that will support their well-being and give them more means to achieve change: healthcare, education and justice,” Masson adds.
Goodrich explains that while pushing women into new roles help them in learning skills for tasks and work they never did before, the problem is that both formal and informal institutions are not changing at the same pace as changes in the lives of women.

“The institutional structures and processes remain patriarchal and largely male dominated, with no or very limited space for women in decision-making,” Goodrich says.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


Nitya Rao and others A qualitative comparative analysis of women’s agency and adaptive capacity in climate change hotspots in Asia and Africa (Nature Climate Change, 26 November 2019)

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

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