As climate change threatens CentAm coffee, a cocoa boom is born

lunes 18 de enero de 2016 08:00 GYT

By Luc Cohen and Ivan Castro

NEW YORK / JINOTEGA, NICARAGUA, Jan. 18 (Reuters) - Brimming with shade trees and bounded by the Tuma river, the lower climes of Roger Castellon's farm in Nicaragua's mountainous Jinotega department were long ideal for growing coffee.

But with temperatures on the rise, the veteran coffee farmer is shifting his lower-lying land to a crop that, although new for him, enjoys a rich legacy in the region: Cocoa.

"Coffee is no longer viable due to climate change," said Castellon, who calls his 420-hectare (1,038-acre)farm Los Nogales.

Soaring temperatures in Central America, linked to climate change, are forcing many farmers like Castellon to replace coffee trees with cocoa - a crop once so essential to the region's economy it was used as currency.

Farmers across the region, known for high-quality arabica beans, are still recovering from a coffee leaf rust disease known as roya, which devastated crops over the past four years.

Now, lower-altitude areas are becoming unsuitable for growing coffee as temperatures heat up. Cocoa thrives in the warmer weather.

Castellon maintains coffee plants on the higher portions of his farm, at about 1,200 meters (3,937 feet). But two years ago he replaced coffee with cocoa on 84 hectares (208 acres) of land at about 700 meters (2,297 feet) in altitude, protected by the shade of fig and banana trees.

He expects to produce his first cocoa crop this April and said planting the cocoa trees cost about a third of what it would have cost to renew coffee plants.   Continuación...