Adapting Coffee to a Changing Climate in Sumatra

Fazrin Rahmadani recently joined CI’s Director of Food, Agriculture and Fresh Water Joanne Sonenshine on Starbucks’ annual Origin Experience trip in North Sumatra, Indonesia. (Read more about this trip in Joanne’s blogs published earlier this week.) Today Fazrin explains the ongoing challenges Indonesian coffee farmers face and how we’re helping them adapt.

Climate change adaptation project on a coffee farm in Central Aceh, Indonesia.

Climate change adaptation project on a coffee farm in Central Aceh, Indonesia. (© CI/photo by Terry Hills)

On the sidelines of a sustainable coffee meeting in Central Aceh some time ago, a farmer asked me: “What can we do to restore the temperature and climate that have changed? It used to be so cold that at night we slept with a jacket on under our thick blanket. Now, we are too hot for even our blankets.”

Another participant asked: “Before, our coffee was safe from pests and diseases, but that is no longer true. Are pests and diseases related to climate change?”

Over the years, farmers have continually asked me questions like these. In the past, a stable climate in Sumatra minimized instances of pests and diseases, helped regulate the rainy season and made it easier to predict fertilization periods for coffee. Sumatra has long been recognized as one of the best coffee-growing geographies in the world. However, climate change has caused significant changes in both coffee production and quality over the last 10-15 years in Indonesia.

Rising temperatures have changed local conditions and made the area less suitable for growing coffee. Pest and disease attacks on coffee plants and an increase in extreme weather events has become a real problem on coffee plantations and other agricultural lands. For example, as temperatures increase, a beetle called the coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) is expanding into higher altitudes and posing a growing threat to coffee crops. Many farmers have experienced firsthand how these and other changes can disrupt their livelihoods.

Since 2008, CI and Starbucks have developed and replicated a sustainable coffee management project in northern Sumatra. The main objective of this program is to increase the capacity of coffee farmers to better respond to the effects of climate change, optimize coffee production and increase household income. In turn, the farmers are working to reduce forest destruction and improve land management.

A coffee farmer with a Starbucks "partner" on a farm in Sumatra, Indonesia.

A coffee farmer with a Starbucks “partner” on a farm in Sumatra, Indonesia. (© CI/photo by Fazrin Rahmadani)

To help communities adapt to a changing environment, more awareness is needed. Through CI’s collaboration with Starbucks, we are providing trainings on the consequences of climate change to communities, local government and farmers through seminars, workshops and publications.

In addition to training, CI helps farmers understand Starbucks’ Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices program; build inventories of coffee varieties; plant shade trees; and improve methods for seeding and planting, soil and land management and harvesting. All of these strategies help farmers become more resilient to climate change and protect their livelihoods.

Farmers are taught about these methods via a demonstration plot, where they can learn before implementing on their own farms. Besides absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, planting shade trees improves the water system and groundwater supplies and protects the coffee from direct sunlight and rain. Farmers’ interest in this training approach is quite high, because it helps them better manage soil fertility and thus improve their crop.

Coffee is one of the largest contributors to the northern Sumatran government’s income. By liaising directly with the regional governments in places like Central Aceh, CI is working to integrate its trainings within the government’s planned activities around climate change adaptation, specifically ensuring a robust plan is developed among the coffee sector.

Northern Sumatran coffee farmers see these practices as a way to meet the challenge brought on by climate change. Indonesian policymakers recognize the need for a plan to adapt to these changes. Starbucks considers its investment in sustainable coffee as a down payment on higher-quality coffee. Much more work and collaboration needs to take place in northern Sumatra, but it’s clear that we all have a stake in continuing to build a sustainable future for coffee farmers — and coffee drinkers.

Fazrin Rahmadani is the Sumatra program manager for CI-Indonesia. Read the previous blogs in this series, or check out our Facebook photo gallery.


  1. Oluwole says

    Coffee alone cant be saved but also other agriculture products are also important to us in Africa palm,cocoa to mention a few are going down

  2. Laura Dely says

    This article tweaked my interest in Starbucks’ CAFE program, which it developed outside the Fair Trade certification system. Starbucks is a highly profitable company, and one whose service and products I enjoy almost daily, but it could afford to bring Fair Trade to all of its farmers, which would include sustainability practices.
    Also there are two people in the photo above – yet the caption acknowleges only one. Who is the man in the photo — is he helping his farmer wife? Are they partners in farming?

  3. ian Ingliss says

    It’s a bit bloody rich for Starbucks to claim they are involved with these socially responsible projects, yet they can’t even bother to pay their fair share of corporate taxes in the UK.
    Starbucks generated sales of 3 billion pounds since 1998 but paid only 8.6 million in taxes, thanks to paying fees to other parts of its global business (could those parts be located in Jersey, Bahamas, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg?)
    Is this tax avoidance?
    Starbucks are a disgrace and people would make a more positive impact on the environment and social injustice if they did not shop there.

  4. Muhammad Laba says

    Dear Conservation International

    In my home island Alor, coffee is said be planted by Dutch, and Portugal during colonial era. I was born in 1972, and still sightsaw my backyard in Alor’s capital Kalabahi, grew sporadically. And villagers traded it until 1990’s. Kebon Kopi (coffee plantation) was named for that Villages for its coffee outcomes. Now Kebon Kopi village as well as other has changed into clove village. No more old people rush to jungle to collect Luak Coffee (coffee swolen and thrown by badger/civet which is now an expensive commodity), no more villager visit relative and bring in coffee, no more people of other surrounding islands drop by to buy the old coffee.

    As an local NGO activist I concern on this isue and hope some party can do favor to save the old coffee. I have met a local NGO leader, Besipae in Kupang, capital of NTT Province, said that one of your project, or your affiliate has been conducting a coffee conservation in Aceh, Indonesia. I have also contacted Aceh Coffee Forum link and they replied me and said they are considering to come to Alor, but i was advised to contact Conservation Internation in Jakarta. I hope this writing reach the right contact, or please forward this to any competent personal.
    Muhammad Laba
    Alor, NTT, Indonesia
    +62 (0)81270008086

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