It’s early. I drag my feet up the stairs and into the kitchen. I start brewing coffee. Seconds later, I pour myself a cup of black coffee and take a couple of sips. The bittersweet taste takes me back to the days I spent working in the coffee fields of Turrialba, Costa Rica.   

At Alejandro's farm.

Alejandro and I have just finished planting some new coffee plants in his plantation. Before taking a coffee break, he is eager to show me something. He leads the way through the wet plantation before he finally stops next to a row of coffee plants slightly taller than himself. “These plants are all very old Caturra plants, almost 80-year-old! My father planted these. When I was younger, they would bend over because of all the coffee they produced. But things are different now [he paused] Now the plants are very sick. They have a fever that they just can’t seem to overcome.” Alejandro rushes over to a rather leafless plant. He grabs the upper part of it, and bends it over to look at the underside of the spotty leaves. “You can’t see that many spots on top of the leaves”, he said, before rubbing his rough thumb across the yellow spots. “Look”, he exclaims while showing me the orange dust gathered under his rugged nail.

A leaf infected by roya

“This is what we call roya. It’s a very curious disease. It started about 10 to 15 years ago with small yellow spots beneath the leaves. In the past years, they grew larger.  The last 3 years have been fatal. That’s when it became wild. At the worst, I lost almost 70 % of my coffee yield. Most plants were naked with hardly any leaves, because Caturra is very sweet to roya. I had to cut those plants that couldn’t be saved. Soon I have to cut these memories of my father, and replace them with a new coffee variety that has no history.”

Alejandro’s eyes turn gloomy, as he pauses to take a nostalgic glimpse across his coffee plantation.

 

Alejandro leading the way.

“It’s heartbreaking to see something that my family and I have dedicated our lives to withering away. During each harvest, everyone would participate in picking coffee. Coffee is tradition. It’s a heritage that has been passed down from one generation to another, from father to son, for many years. In the past, it was practically given that a son of a coffee farmer would continue in his father’s footsteps. But with the prices, expensive chemical products, roya and climate changes, tired soils and plants, I’m afraid that our heritage is disappearing.”

Diseased coffee plants with few leaves.

 In 2012-2013, the coffee rust epidemic in Central America led to a production loss of 20 % in 2013 alone. 64 % of Costa Rica’s coffee plantations were affected by the disease. The epidemic is but one example of the many consequences to come due to climate change.Climate change is threatening coffee crops in practically every coffee-producing region of the world. Heavy rainfall, rise in temperatures and more resilient pests and plant diseases are all related to climate changes. Such changes are reflected by a global decline in coffee supply.

For Alejandro and other coffee farmers in Turrialba, climate change threatens to destroy their livelihood. He shows resilience, but is worried about the loss of a way of life and a heritage that is integral not only to his family’s history, but also to his very identity.

I put my precious “Café de Costa Rica” back in the cupboard. I cannot take my morning coffee for granted.