Easing the impact of climate change on coffee growers

Nespresso’s new crop insurance helps small Colombian coffee growers manage increasingly unpredictable weather.

Photograph by Rena Effendi
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Coffee laborer in Aguadas.
Photograph by Rena Effendi

Easing the impact of climate change on coffee growers

Nespresso’s new crop insurance helps small Colombian coffee growers manage increasingly unpredictable weather.

The impacts of climate change hit close to home on Colombia’s small, independent coffee farms. For the farm families who grow coffee high up on the mist-shrouded slopes of the Andes in the Caldas province west of Bogotá, increasingly erratic and extreme weather conditions, such as excess rainfall and more frequent droughts, are threatening a way of life generations in the making.

“When there are adverse climatic events it affects the quality and quantity of the coffee,” says Caldas coffee farmer Edilma Garzón Gutierrez, a mother of 11 who took over her family’s farm near Aguadas 20 years ago when her husband died. “[When] we receive less money for our coffee, we have to cut expenses for the farm or for our house. Sometimes we have to look for another kind of income because the coffee will not suffice.”

To help Doña Eldima and other smallholder coffee farmers in Caldas protect their livelihood today and preserve their family’s coffee-growing legacy for future generations, Nespresso launched a pilot weather-index insurance program in 2018. Created in partnership with Blue Marble Microinsurance (with the support of the University of Colombia, Planet Guarantee, and AgriLogic)—which extends socially impactful, commercially viable insurance protection to vulnerable populations—the innovative Nespresso crop insurance program provides custom coverage for crop losses due to climatic shocks.

“The crop insurance project is great,” says Doña Eldima, who, in recent years, has focused on managing the household and helping take care of her grandchildren while one of her adult children runs the family’s coffee farm. “Because when we pick less coffee, or the coffee is bad quality because of the weather, we have help to confront difficult times.”

Doña Eldima is among the nearly 2,000 farmer-members of the Aguadas and Norte de Caldas cooperatives in Caldas enrolled in the pilot harvest insurance plan, run by Colombian insurance company Seguros Bolivar and supported through the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. Launched in 2003, the AAA program works to create long-term, sustainable coffee quality by building direct relationships with local growers.

“Having an insurance solution that protects our members from the devastating effects of climate change is critical for the cooperatives,” says Cesar Julio Díaz, head of the Aguadas and Norte de Caldas cooperatives, which helps Nespresso identify farmers who could benefit from the insurance. “It allows coffee growers access to economic resources in the form of insurance payouts that will help them re-establish their crops, making them productive and able to continue with their agronomic activity.”

Here's how the new crop insurance coverage works. Unlike traditional insurance, which doesn’t pay out until losses are verified via field visits (a slow and expensive process) or data from weather stations (which are scarce and often unreliable), the Nespresso-Blue Marble insurance provides coverage based on a climate index, called CaféSeguro. Developed by Nespresso, Blue Marble Microinsurance, coffee growers, and experts in the field, the index uses satellite technology to automatically activate payments to participating farmers if excess rainfall is detected during the delicate flowering stage (when the white blooms of the coffee plants are easily damaged by showers) or if drought is detected.

No flowers blooming on coffee trees means no fruit, while drought can damage bean development inside ripening fruit. When harvested, drought-damaged red cherries that look healthy on the outside could contain beans inside that are twisted, undersized, or otherwise not fully formed.

“A single event of excess rainfall or drought can potentially reverse many years of hard work,” says Nespresso AAA program agronomist Sandra Rodriguez. “Now, when there is a climate alteration the coffee grower can go directly to the bank to claim the payment for losses from the incident. Growers do not need to do anything else. This program is fantastic for the local coffee producers.”

Caldas coffee grower Mario Davila agrees. “When there is a lot of rain, the flowers from the coffee plants will not develop, so there is less production and less money in our pocket,” says Don Mario, who wakes up at 5 a.m. each day to pick and process ripe red coffee cherries, and weed and fertilize his coffee trees. “The crop insurance is very good, because today climate change is affecting coffee growers with severe drought or excessive rain, so this can help if there is an economic loss due to climate.”

For Don Mario, who was raised in the local coffee culture and lives on his five-acre farm with his wife and two sons, the innovative harvest insurance is another way Nespresso is helping him safeguard his family’s most valuable asset, and his children’s inheritance.

“Coffee has given me everything,” he says. “Thanks to the Nespresso AAA program and by being a member of the local coffee cooperative, I have been able to increase my patrimony [the coffee farm he will pass on to his children].”

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