Effective adaptation strategies and risk reduction towards economic and climatic shocks: lessons from the coffee crisis in Meso-America (CRN 2060)

1) Effect of tropical storm on coffee plantation (photo: Eddie García, 2005).
2) Effective Strategy? direct marketing with added value in Jitolol, Mexico (photo: Helda Morales, 2006).
3) Coffee producer uses weather station 4) Training interviewers in Barberena, Guatemala (photo: Axel Arana, 2007)

Project information

Edwin Castellanos (ecastell@uvg.edu.gt)
Universidad del Valle de Guatemala




This research continued in SGP-CRA 2060, with the same title

Executive summary Investigators

Executive summary

Coffee farmers in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Costa Rica have been experiencing unusually extreme weather, high incidences of pests and diseases, and volatile prices since 1997. This project looks at how farmers are responding to these threats, in order to develop strategies and tools for vulnerable coffee growers facing the effects of global change.


Identify impacts of economic and climate variability on the livelihoods and social networks of coffee farmers

Evaluate effectiveness of individual and group coping strategies

Analyze community-based government and non-government programs

Help communities, local and national government agencies communicate to revise policies


First results
Even minor climate changes may move coffee crops out of the optimum ecological and economic range, particularly in areas where conditions are already marginal (e.g. overly dry or totally flooded soils). Yet, farmers perceive market fluctuations as a bigger threat than climate variability. Many farmers in the research sites continue to plant risky coffee crops because the alternatives are even more perilous.

To reduce the impacts of negative climate events, farmers use several strategies: some grow alternative crops, others diversify the sources of income, and a quarter of them (figures from Honduras) migrate, often with complicated social and legal consequences.

Factors helping farmers adapt to global change are (1) better access to information about fluctuations in market and climate; (2) better access to insurance and credit; and (3) increased capacity to organize and maintain local groups (e.g.; cooperatives).

Cutting coffee shade trees to prepare the land for other crops may lead to increased risks of erosion, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity. Deforestation also affects the carbon balance, since it reduces the number of carbon sinks.

Where secondary forests dominate the landscape, conservation goals should incorporate sustainable transitions between forests and farming.

It is easier for policy to respond to medium-term drivers such as emergence of new pests or new market opportunities which allow for institutional arrangements to be developed. Very slow processes such as declining soil fertility or climate change are difficult to perceive and often left out of the policy agenda despite their substantial long-lasting impacts.

Project case studies suggest that policies need to fit local contexts and perceptions, and no single policy prescription is likely to meet the range of experiences and conditions in the region.

Project investigators

Edwin Castellanos – ecastell@uvg.edu.gt
Universidad del Valle de Guatemala

Rafael Díaz Porras, Gerardo Jiménez (Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica, Costa Rica), Francisco Anzueto (ANACAFE, Asociación Nacional del Café), Guatemala), Sandra de Urioste-Stone (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, Guatemala), Catherine Tucker (Indiana University, USA), Gustavo Cruz (INIFAP, México), Hallie Eakin (School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, USA), Helda Morales, Juan Francisco Barrera (El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Mexico).

Project web page
Updated 3/2010
Policy Brief (in English)
PDF File