Climate Change, Coffee and Migration

By Sean Hawkey, Life on Earth Pictures

I feel connected to Central America, after 12 years living there and working on social issues. I just returned to spend a month there looking at innovations in food production in the arid south, how people are adapting to climate change and the crisis in the coffee industry, I did a feel-good story about young women running a chocolate factory and reforestation programme, and then I looked at migration – asking faith leaders why Hondurans are pouring out of the country in an exodus to the US, and what should we think about it?

In the 90s I lived and worked with an indigenous group in Honduras and a year ago I published a short book about Honduras called The Real Face of Jesus, it’s a series of photographs and stories about men and women who are called Jesús, so there’s a bit of history to my visits and I love every minute there. Over the last few days I was mainly shooting video, but here are a few photos from the trip, part of a much larger batch that will soon form part of the Life on Earth Pictures archive.

The coffee industry is hit by two major crises in Honduras: international prices that don’t cover the cost of production, and climate heating that has brought coffee tree leaf rust and droughts. Here a team of women put a coffee into sacks at the COMSA coop in Marcala.
Looking like fisherwomen, these women heave on sheets of plastic to lift dried coffee at a Fairtrade coffee farm in Honduras.
Producing specialist and gourmet coffees is one way that coffee producers can earn above the standard international coffee price – that is bankrupting many farmers – the other way is with premium prices from Fairtrade and organic certifications. Here a coffee grader works in the COMSA coffee lab in Marcala, Honduras, their head seems to be bowed in reverence as she takes in the aroma of some organic Fairtrade coffee.
Ana Amparo picks coffee on her farm. She explains that Fairtrade premium payments have paid for projects in her coop for women’s health, grants for young people to study and other social projects, without the Fairtrade premium, she says, they’d be going bankrupt.
Workers are nearly obscured by a rain of coffee as farmers pour their harvest into a giant chute at the RAOS coop in Marcala.
Herman Danilo Hernández, coffee and cocoa farmer in La Laguna, Santa Barbara, stands alongside part of his coffee plantation that has been devastated by leaf rust. Climate change has increased humidity and so fungal plant diseases like leaf rust that destroys coffee can prosper.
Betty Pérez, at her biodynamic coffee farm Claves de Sol in Marcala, Honduras, drying coffee on an African bed system.

Climate change has affected the south of Honduras very severely, a prolonged drought continues to affect the region, and affects the livelihoods of farming communities. Rivers have dried up and some areas haven’t had a good harvest for ten years. There is a correlation between the climate crisis and growing violence in the area, as the population can no longer rely on farming to survive some turn to crime in desperation. And there is a strong correlation between climate change, violent crime and migration, they are motors of migration pushing people to find ways to survive elsewhere.

In this arid region of Honduras jicaro trees grow in a parched landscape. Climate change and poor water management is pushing the area from arid to desert.
Tapaire, Choluteca. One of many dried-up rivers in the area. Climate change is a major motor of migration from the region.
Responding to the climate crisis, an innovative project by World Renew has set up 100 families with aquaponics projects, as a sort of model project, producing fish and vegetables with very little water in the middle of the most arid area of Central America. The early results of the project show huge increase in available nutrtion for the families involved.
A solar energy plant in Choluteca, southern Honduras. Globally our transition to renewable energy is a good thing, and we need to move fast, but locally there is fierce opposition as delicate ecologies are affected and local populations are displaced. Some of the biggest solar farms in Latin America are in southern Honduras, this one is owned by a Norwegian company and protected by military personel.
I’ve interviewed several faith leaders in Honduras over the last few days – from the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Church and the Catholic Church – asking why Hondurans are leaving the US. It’s a crucial issue for the 2020 elections in the US and the the motors of migration need to be understood better. In summary, faith leaders say that people are leaving to be able to survive, they are fleeing the violence that thrives with corruption of the police and judiciary, the violence that eats at every part of their wellbeing and communities and preys particularly on the poor, and they are fleeing grinding poverty. But, more on that soon. This is an older picture, of Honduran children on a migrant caravan to Tijuana, Mexico.