Towards a climate change adaptation strategy for coffee communities and ecosystems in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico

Schroth, G. et al. | Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change | 2009 | Peer Reviewed | Original research |


The mountain chain of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas in southern Mexico is globally significant for its biodiversity and is one of the most important coffee production areas of Mexico. It provides water for several municipalities and its biosphere reserves are important tourist attractions. Much of the forest cover outside the core protected areas is in fact coffee grown under traditional forest shade. Unless this (agro)forest cover can be sustained, the biodiversity of the Sierra Madre and the environmental services it provides are at risk. We analyzed the threats to livelihoods and environment from climate change through crop suitability modeling based on downscaled climate scenarios for the period 2040 to 2069 (referred to as 2050s) and developed adaptation options through an expert workshop. Significant areas of forest and occasionally coffee are destroyed every year by wildfires, and this problem is bound to increase in a hotter and drier future climate. Widespread landslides and inundations, including on coffee farms, have recently been caused by hurricanes whose intensity is predicted to increase. A hotter climate with more irregular rainfall will be less favorable to the production of quality coffee and lower profitability may compel farmers to abandon shade coffee and expand other land uses of less biodiversity value, probably at the expense of forest. A comprehensive strategy to sustain the biodiversity, ecosystem services and livelihoods of the Sierra Madre in the face of climate change should include the promotion of biodiversity friendly coffee growing and processing practices including complex shade which can offer some hurricane protection and product diversification; payments for forest conservation and restoration from existing government programs complemented by private initiatives; diversification of income sources to mitigate risks associated with unstable environmental conditions and coffee markets; integrated fire management; development of markets that reward sustainable land use practices and forest conservation; crop insurance programs that are accessible to smallholders; and the strengthening of local capacity for adaptive resource management.