New Tool to Help Farmers Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change

February 10, 2011

On February 10, 2011, the Rainforest Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) unveiled the new Climate Module: Criteria for the Mitigation of and Adaptation to Climate Change, developed in collaboration with allies at Guatemala's Inter-American Foundation for Tropical Research (FIIT, for its name in Spanish); SalvaNATURA, a Salvadoran conservation organization; the National Coffee Association, Anacafé; the Efico Foundation; the Universidad del Valle (the Guatemalan research institution) and with financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation, coffee and cacao importer Efico and Caribou Coffee.

The new climate module aims to make farmers more aware of the impacts of climate change and to promote the adoption of good agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increase carbon sequestration and enhance the capacity of farms to adapt to climate change.

"Farmers can play a fundamental role in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change," says Gianluca Gonodolini, project manager for the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable agriculture team in Latin America. "With the release of this module, the SAN and the Rainforest Alliance are introducing a tool that farmers can use to demonstrate that climate-friendly agricultural practices reinforce the value added by the SAN standard while facilitating the transition to low-carbon agricultural production."

The initiative began in Guatemala in 2008, when Anacafé, Efico and the Rainforest Alliance started working with coffee farmers in the departments of San Marcos, Santa Rosa and Jalapa. Participating farms have had their carbon sequestration capacity measured and GHG emissions calculated.

The module was developed through a public consultation led by the SAN, with feedback from more than 350 stakeholders from 41 countries. Field tests and workshops were also held in Latin America, Africa and Asia to determine the module's potential for implementation on farms of different sizes and within a variety of production systems.

The SAN’s International Standards Committee, which is intimately involved in the development of all new or revised SAN standards and addendums, approved the climate module last December. Certified producers in Latin America, Africa and Asia can now voluntarily adopt the climate module; compliance with the module can be verified together with compliance with the SAN standard.

The new criteria reinforce the sustainable practices that are already required of Rainforest Alliance Certified farms and highlight those activities that have demonstrated the greatest climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits. The SAN worked to draft criteria that are rigorous, accessible and easy to implement for farmers in tropical countries, and that will result in substantial long-term benefits.

"The climate module is a practical and accessible tool for the entire coffee industry," notes Katrien Delaet of Efico. "It helps producers to implement climate-friendly agricultural practices and encourages commercial and industrial players to commit to reducing their carbon emissions."

Climate-friendly farming methods can also result in reductions in production and operating costs, improving a farm's profitability by reducing energy and water consumption, generating new products from agricultural waste, and ensuring more efficient use of fertilizers.

"We have supported the SAN's climate module from the start, so that coffee farmers are recognized for the valuable environmental services they provide," explains Nils Leporowski, vice president of Anacafé.

Farmers who commit to implementing the SAN climate module will be able to identify the risks that climate change poses to their farms and communities, and prepare to mitigate and adapt to its impacts. They can estimate their varying degrees of vulnerability to events such as prolonged droughts and severe flooding -- which are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity -- along with altered growing seasons and more regular outbreaks of agricultural pests and diseases. They will also be able to increase the amount of carbon sequestered on their farms through the restoration of degraded lands, reforestation and improved soil conservation.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change, responsible for 14 percent of GHG emissions, mainly as a result of soil erosion, poor irrigation practices, the uncontrolled use of fertilizers and other agrochemicals, biomass burning and livestock production. When deforestation from farmland expansion and tree plantations is factored into calculations, agriculture is estimated to account for 30 percent of total GHG emissions globally.