Specialty Coffee Farmers' Climate Change Concern and Perceived Ability to Adapt (2016)

Client Organization: 
CIMS Sustainable Markets Intelligence Center, Costa Rica
Project Location : 
Alajuela, Costa Rica
Summary of Project Idea: 

The intent of this study is to explore the relationship between critical farm characteristics and speciality coffee farmers’ perceptions of climate change and their ability to adapt. The focus on specialty coffee growers reflects a submarket within the global coffee market, which values a higher quality cup. Buyers in this market offer a price above the traditional commodity price for coffee. This submarket is particularly important for two primary reasons. First, Costa Rican coffee farmers’ livelihoods largely depend on a differentiated product given that the cost of living and labor standards are relatively high compared to other coffee producing countries such as Brazil and Vietnam. Second, this market situation makes Costa Rican growers more vulnerable to changes in climate where there is a high risk of losing viable land for cultivating specialty coffee, which often requires more precise growing conditions.

The Cup of Excellence competition emerged as a representative sample population of specialty coffee farmers in Costa Rica. The selection process evaluates and scores thousands of specialty coffee submissions based on acidity, body, aroma, and flavor. An auction is organized for the final top 35 coffees, which continues to break records for highest recorded price every year showing a significant demand for specialty coffee.

In May 2015, our team conducted an iterative process of interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders to develop a survey that would assess perceptions of climate change and adaptation capabilities. Results from the survey sample of 34 Cup of Excellence winners from 2011-2015 relate these perceptions to income, management strategies, access to climate information, financing opportunities, and other farmer characteristics. Among the findings, 76% of respondents reported being concerned or very concerned about climate change. At the same time, only 38% of respondents reported being prepared or very prepared to adapt to climate change. Insights gleaned from this study will serve other researchers and stakeholders in the Costa Rican specialty coffee industry as a proof of concept for creating relevant adaptation initiatives, strategies, and policies.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Avik Basu
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Micaela Battiste, MS/MBA Conservation Ecology
  • Matt Gacioch, MS/MBA Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Michelle Gross, MS/MBA Behavior, Education and Communication 
  • Shoaib Rahman, MS/MBA Conservation Ecology/Sustainable Systems 
Project Status: 
Past Project