While governments, scientists, civil society and others convened at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the U.N.’s weather agency reported that 2011 was the 10th hottest year since records began in 1850. Though politicians and pundits may still debate the origins and impacts of climate change, there is a general consensus in the scientific community that we are experiencing a significant shift in the earth?s climate. This shift has particular significance for people living in the developing world and those who depend primarily on both subsistence and commercial agriculture for their livelihoods. Farmers are on the frontlines of climate change and are confronted with daily evidence, facing ever chaotic and extreme weather conditions.
2011 marked a flashpoint for many small farmers and fair trade producers. Fair trade producers from Mexico and Colombia to Ghana and Indonesia experienced a record number of climate change influenced disasters, including landslides, severe floods and crop failure. According to Fairtrade International (FLO), fair trade farmers are experiencing up to 28% reductions in yield due to erratic weather patterns and droughts. Small farmers, already vulnerable from a lack of financing options, limited market access and/or volatile markets, among other factors, are now faced with lower yields, ?natural? disasters and higher costs to adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts.
Climate change is impacting specific crops in very specific ways. A recent report by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) detailed how a significant percentage of Ivory Coast and Ghana, the two biggest cocoa producing countries, will be too hot for cocoa by 2030. Compounded by erratic and unpredictable weather patterns, flooding and new pests, cocoa and cocoa producers have a very bleak future. Sadly, this pattern is replicated in other crops like coffee. Coffee producing regions are experiencing a dangerous combination of lower rainfall and higher temperatures, which some speculate will render production unsustainable in lowland countries and regions by 2050. While coffee plants may be able to adapt to higher altitudes in search of cooler temperatures, small farmers are tied to their land, both historically and financially. The United States Agency for International Development?s (USAID) work with the Global Climate Change Initiative recently published a study that analyzed a number of intersections of climate change, poverty and agriculture. Key to the study is an index of ?country vulnerability? with many of the countries with significant fair trade presences ranked as ?extremely? vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.