“Brewing for Change”: Emory Hosts Coffee Farmer, Anthropologist and Entrepreneur for Panel on Climate Change

“Brewing for Change”: Emory Hosts Coffee Farmer, Anthropologist and Entrepreneur for Panel on Climate Change



En una tasa hay una comunidad, manos de labor, bosque, agua.”
“In a cup there is a community, the hands of labor, forest, water.” – Byron Corrales

From the forests of Nicaragua to Emory’s Goizueta Business School, Byron Corrales, an organic coffee farmer, brought his message of earthly balance and organic coffee farming in the context of global climate change. On a Wednesday night, he and Carla Roncoli, PhD of Emory’s Masters in Development Practice, and David Paull, Chief Composting Officer at Compost Wheels, discussed their work and why it matters for climate change.

“Las plantas y los animals no funcionan como funcionaron hace diez anos,” said Corrales (or, the plants and animals don’t function like they did ten years ago). Corrales is a third generation coffee farmer who didn’t need climate model projections to realize that the Earth around him was behaving differently, suffering.

Climate change, he told the audience, is “la gran situacion,” the great, cruel situation. In a matter of 6-8 months, he told us, coffee leaves and fruits in several sections of his farm fell to the ground without warning, ruining 20 years of hard work. Citing studies conducted in Nicaragua, he warns that coffee growing capacities in the country could be reduced to as low as 20 percent of current productivity.

His way of combating climate change? Working with the Earth, not against it. Modern, industrial agriculture, he says, relies on synthetic fossil fuel fertilizers that he knows how to work without. Corrales spoke passionately about how biochemical industries continue to proclaim there’s a deficiency in the soil in order to sell petroleum-based fertilizers and other harmful agrochemicals.

Organic farming has been his method for generations now, in which he uses rock minerals, abstains from chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, and works with several animal and plant species that complement each other’s biological cycles. He talked about his cows with particular affection, for instance. Their manure provides the nutrients not only for his coffee plantings, but also for more than 30 other food crops on which his family feeds, and it provides the energy for their kitchen. He says “todo se puede reciclar en un proceso,” or, all can be recycled and reused in one process.

David Paull is the Chief Composting Officer at the startup company Compost Wheels which collects household and commercial food waste and deliver it to local farms to use in their agriculture. Soil, he said, is the most integral aspect to raising environmental wellness and, by extension, to combating climate change. He declared, “If we care for our soils, we will care for all things good.” Paull hopes that soils will come to the forefront of international climate negotiations, such as the UN COP21 meetings starting this month in Paris, France.

Anthropologist Dr. Carla Roncoli in Emory’s Master’s in Development Practice, spoke about her work with international organizations, and in particular how farmers in Western Africa are coping with climate change. She described her friend Salaam Bikienga’s struggle in Burkina Faso with increasing temperature and rainfall variability and its impacts on food security and health. Roncoli stressed that farmers combine scientific and indigenous knowledge of their environments to be successful, but that with the increasing unpredictability of environmental factors, reading the natural signs of the land is getting more difficult.

The panelists offered diverse perspectives and angles from which to think about and address climate change. At this year’s climate talks in Paris it remains to be seen what world leaders, grassroots movements, farmers, scholars and many other people will bring to the table in trying to determine how best to stay safe and thrive in a rapidly changing environment.


Clara B. Perez

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