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291. The coffee and water paradox at origin

CRS has worked with smallholder coffee farmers in Central America for 10 years to help expand the market opportunities available to them.  Over the past five years, CRS has also promoted integrated water resource management in coffee-growing communities throughout Central America.  In the process, CRS has identified — and taken initial steps to address — a coffee and water resource paradox with three dimensions.

  • Upstream/Downstream. 

The best-bet livelihood option for smallholder farming families in upland areas contributes to water insecurity for downstream communities in coffee-growing watersheds.

  • Production/Processing.

Among smallholder coffee farmers in Central America, the dominant production model is an agroforestry approach that generates significant watershed services and other ecosystem benefits, including carbon sequestration; the dominant wet-milling process poses a grave threat to water security in coffee-growing watersheds, and releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

  • Ecosystem giveaways.

Even when coffee farmers generate watershed and other ecosystem benefits, they are rarely compensated for the value they create, reducing the incentive for them to continue to do so.

Over the coming weeks, I will explore each of these dimensions of the coffee-water resources paradox in greater depth, identify technologies that can address them, analyze the reasons why they aren’t in broader use, and suggest some ways forward.

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