Challenges Facing Low-carbon Coffee Production in Brazil

Debates on tackling climate change and how agriculture can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions have gained momentum in recent years. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, forestry, and other land use are responsible for about 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

A study conducted by Cecafé (Brazilian Coffee Exporters Council) and Imaflora (Institute of Agricultural and Forest Management and Certification) estimated the carbon balance of 40 farms located in Minas Gerais state. The average carbon balance ranged from -1.63 to -10.5 metric tons CO2 equivalent per hectare per year, depending on the cropping system.

Transitioning to a regenerative production system presents initial challenges and costs for growers. However, conversations with cooperatives and producers highlight the potential long-term benefits and increased productivity. Estimated operating costs could increase by 7.2% under a regenerative model and by 20.7% if changes in fertilizers alone are considered (based on July 2023 market prices).

Coffee growers continue to face challenges in adopting low-carbon practices, with larger certified producers needing to make minor adjustments, while smaller producers face constraints due to the costs of mitigating emissions and delayed returns. Complex certification processes and an unstable carbon credit framework hinder practical involvement in certification schemes and carbon markets, even though some farmers expect short-term premiums for their coffee.

Preliminary estimates, based on July 2023 prices, indicate that coffee roasters could reduce their carbon emissions and support regenerative farming by offering growers an extra payment (premium) of at least USD 6.6 per bag. This could lead to a potential reduction of 8.9 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per hectare annually. Of course, this may vary based on prevailing market conditions and production costs.