Whether Arabica or Robusta, the coffee grown on Indonesia’s tropical Sumatra island, is known for its smooth, sweet body. Aficionados detect earthy flavors with hints of smoke, cocoa, tobacco, cedar wood, and even citrus. But just like other coffees, the Sumatran bean needs stable and predictable conditions. Developing the desired taste profile requires a precise mix of temperature, rainfall and dryness. And climate change is complicating all of that.
Scientists cannot predict exactly what the long-term impact of warming temperatures on coffee production will be. But coffee farmers around the world are already seeing the adverse effects.
Besides reducing the area available for coffee production, rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns exacerbate the threat of pests and disease.
And so, while world leaders figure out at the global level how best to prevent runaway climate change, coffee farmers can also benefit at ground level from localized technical support.
As one of the top three coffee merchandizers worldwide, Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), plays its part by helping coffee farmers to adapt.
LDC’s sustainability approach is based on research data, collected from more than 22,000 farmers around the world. LDC agronomists visit up to four times a year, to get to know local issues and promote sustainable farming techniques, adapted to the local needs and conditions.
“We support coffee farmers so that future generations enjoy coffee of good quality in 30 years,” says Rozenn Kerviel, Sustainability Manager for Coffee at LDC.
“And for this to happen, we need to take a dual approach: spread the best agricultural practices while sticking to an economically viable model.”
In Sumatra, Indonesia, LDC agronomists deliver training on coffee best practices and encourage vulnerable smallholder farmers to plant indigenous trees alongside their coffee plants, as part of a program supported by the Louis Dreyfus Foundation. In addition to providing nutritious food for the farmers and their families, the aim of this initiative is to help them diversify their sources of income beyond food self-sufficiency goals, and to develop long term revenue from timber.
The avocado, citrus and other trees benefit the coffee crops in other ways too. Tree shade reduces air temperatures, increases the relative humidity, and thus reduces the evaporation from coffee plants.
Farmers can also adapt by irrigating their trees, mulching, and terracing. Shifting to other coffee species – for example, from Arabica to Robusta – can also help.
In addition to mitigating the impact of climate change, the program also teaches pruning methods, grafting techniques, natural fertilization and soil management. Farmers also receive information related to pricing and markets. So far, the program has reached more than 7,500 farmers in Sumatra.
“Training on cultivation techniques and soil management are helping me on a daily basis,” says Firdaur, a coffee farmer in Lampung, the southern tip of Sumatra.
He joined this program in 2014, after many difficult years of low productivity. Today he produces 4 tons of raw coffee per year, up from 1.5 tons in 2003.
LDC engages in sustainability projects in other countries including Vietnam and it hopes to grow them in other parts of the world too.
“Ultimately, we are working to keep coffee a sustainable and profitable business, to benefit farmers, consumers, and everybody in between,” says Guy Hogge, Global Head of Sustainability at LDC.
“Through this project, we are adapting not just to climate change, but also to the complex coffee value chain which requires concrete actions at farm level while integrating the market demand. That’s what our sustainability work is all about.”