Iridescent 2017 – Funding Climate Adaptation Workshops

Each year, we set aside one dollar for every pound of Iridescent sold for projects in coffee-growing communities. All of the projects funded by Iridescent focus on increasing the resilience of coffee farmers and their communities, and since this resilience can take many forms, the projects differ year-to-year. Climate change and the resulting variability in seasons it is creating in coffee-growing regions is creating a huge challenge for farmers. In order to build resilience in the face of these changes, we dedicated the funds from Iridescent 2017 to facilitating climate change adaptation workshops with our producer-partners around the world.

Counter Culture buys coffee from partners all over the world—from Papua New Guinea to Kenya to Colombia. Each coffee-growing region and partnership is unique, but the coffee farmers we work with also have a lot in common: they grow a crop whose location is fixed, the productivity and quality of their crop is highly weather and climate-specific, and they depend on coffee for the majority of their household income. Across the globe, coffee farmers are reporting changes to their historical weather patterns and, because of the way specialty coffee is grown and processed—on trees that live more than 30 years, at high altitudes with steep terrain, often dried outside—these changes are creating big challenges at the farm level.

Recognizing these challenges in the industry and within our own value chains, we asked ourselves what we could do. The problem is not a lack of potential solutions—there are many documented strategies that coffee farmers can use to adapt to climatic variations, including transitioning to other crops in areas where the climate is becoming unsuitable for coffee production. The problem is knowing which strategies to implement. It’s here that we get back to the uniqueness of each coffee value chain—geography, topography, processing techniques, infrastructure, regulatory environment, how farmers work (individually, in a co-op, etc.), access to finance, and the nature of the climatic variations are just some of the factors that vary between supply chains. Because of these variations, there is no universal “best” adaptation solution.

Looking at this reality, we decided that one of the things we could do was develop a tool to help coffee farmers answer that preliminary question—what is the “best” adaptation strategy for me/my group? Working with students from the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment, we developed a two-day workshop that leads participants through a series of exercises designed to help them answer that question. The workshop is based around the premise that the “best” solution is one that:

  1. Is tailored to the challenges that climate change is creating for this particular group of farmers,
  2. Addresses one if not more of the causes and/or effects of those challenges,
  3. Is feasible based on the resources the group already has or could likely access,
  4. Has a sizeable impact on the group’s ability to be resilient against future climatic variations,
  5. And the group likes and is interested in doing.
Climate Change Adaptation Workshop with Finca Nueva Armenia in Guatemala.

The workshop is designed around participatory methodologies, which are ways of getting information, drawing conclusions, making decisions, and/or spurring action that are based on the knowledge of participants. In the context of our workshops, the use of participatory methods means that all of the ideas come from the participating coffee farmers, not the workshop facilitators. Participants identify how climate change is impacting their lives, generate ideas for solutions, evaluate the feasibility of those solutions based on resource availability, and ultimately prioritize solutions based on feasibility and impact.

Since developing and piloting the workshop last year at Finca Nueva Armenia, Counter Culture has used the 2017 Iridescent funds to facilitate the workshop with eight different producer-partners. In addition to the value of the workshop to each partner, these workshops have allowed us to further explore how different types of value chains are experiencing climate change and to further test the ability of the workshop to function in different settings. In June, we did the workshop with four different co-ops in Guatemala who are all members of a larger exporting co-op. These groups had a lot in common in terms of location, organizational structure, farm practices and demographics. In August, we traveled to East Africa to do the workshop with a subset of farmers from the Kushikamana group in Kenya as well as with a group of farmers who deliver to a Bufcoffee-owned washing station in Rwanda. We wrapped up our summer with a trip to Nariño, Colombia to do the workshops with two of the associations born out of the CRS Borderlands project.

To say that we’ve learned a lot from these workshops is an understatement. Not only do we have a better understanding of the scope of climate change’s impacts on coffee farmers, we also know more about all of these partners than we knew before—and that’s going to help us be better partners to them. Here are a few of the most interesting things we’ve learned from these workshops:

  1. The types of challenges and list of potential solutions were pretty similar across all of the workshops. For example, soil erosion came up as an issue in every workshop and the planting of shade trees was a commonly considered solution. Another common challenge was doubt on when to do certain agricultural practices—fertilizing, for example, because rainfall patterns are becoming much more unpredictable than in the past.
  2. The “best” solutions are very context-specific. Even when we specifically chose workshop locations that we thought had a lot in common on paper, the co-ops in Guatemala for example, we never ended up with exactly the same outcome. Some of this is because locations that look very close on a map can have different microclimates, but more often, we saw differences in the feasibility of solutions due to organizational structure. For example: Are the farmers organized into a group? If so, how formal is that group? Does the group have a structure that makes it more or less easy to do projects or communicate with members? Does the group have access to credit?
  3. Financing the implementation of the chosen solutions is going to be challenging. Many of the solutions will help farmers maintain a more consistent yield and quality year-to-year and therefore contribute to the profitability of coffee farming as a livelihood, but they won’t necessarily mean the farmer gets more money overall. This makes taking out loans to cover solution implementation risky since if the payback for the solution is avoidance of lost income versus additional revenue. We’ve started to look more closely at grants and are hoping to find some viable options for funding in that realm.
  4. Using participatory methodologies has numerous benefits. In addition to being a way to get information and make decisions, using these methods creates a strong sense of shared decision-making. Throughout the workshop, participants work together in small groups, vote on various decisions, and make numerous brief presentations to the larger group so that by the last exercise when participants are asked to prioritize solutions based on feasibility and impact, there is rarely ever disagreement. This collective decision-making is a new dynamic for some groups, particularly those in which a few strong voices have historically made the decisions. It’s also a new dynamic for many of the other supply chain actors who have participated as co-facilitators or observers. To generalize, the dynamic in many coffee supply chains has been one where these other actors—exporters, NGOs, roasters, etc.—give instructions to farmers rather than having farmers take the lead in determining what they want to work on. In fact, many participants arrive at the workshop thinking it will be like a training, and are surprised and even doubtful when told that the information in the workshop will come from them—a dynamic that quickly disappears after the first few exercises.
Climate Change Adaptation Workshop with Kushikamana in Embu, Kenya.

Going forward, we’ll move into the next phase of the rollout of this workshop: having other people organize, facilitate, and execute the workshop with more of our producer-partners. We know that we’re not the only ones who can facilitate the workshop and in most cases, not even the best ones to facilitate the workshop since there are many qualified facilitators who know the local context and culture much better than we do. Knowing this, we invited specific people to attend the eight workshops as “observers”. These were folks that we identified as having the capacity and interest to carry out this workshop on their own after seeing how it works. We created this toolkit to help them do just that, as well as to offer the workshop as a tool to anyone else in the industry who wants to use it. We’ve learned so much from doing these workshops, from how to apply participatory theory to a more complete knowledge of our producer-partners, and we plan to continue this project beyond this year and into the future.