Category Archives: Climate Change

Riding astride coffee yield and quality in Nicaragua

Riding astride coffee yield and quality in Nicaragua

René Mendoza, Javier López, Ivania Rivera and Warren Armstrong[1]

Good coffee

“Do you know why I invited you to this coffee shop?, a European buyer, who is also a grade Q coffee-cupper, asked me. “Because they told me that they serve quality coffee here”, he responded to his own question. With that the waiter came up, and he asked for an expresso – coffee with more flavor and texture. When we were served, he took the first sip and made a face, “this is garbage.” Why? I asked. “There is no coffee shop in this country with good coffee, and we are in a coffee growing country!” His words shook the floor under me, and I came back at him, “you buy coffee throughout Latin America, where have you tasted good coffee?” Taking another sip of coffee, he said, “In Colombia, in Bogotá, even in the poorest coffee shop you find good coffee.” “Well… we are a coffee growing country, but the culture of coffee shops is new,” I said to him, “like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Looking at me with a certain amount of compassion, he said, “That explains it, but it does not justify it.”

(Based on a conversation between René Mendoza and a coffee buyer in 2019)

Coffee quality is expressed through its aroma, fragrance and flavor, the fact that its beans are healthy and clean, that they are dried well, grew on good soil, and in the company of other crops…Behind these attributes and actions are dozens of human hands in several phases and moments. That quality is relatively stable over time, as the French proverb says, “Price is forgotten, quality remains.” Prices can be like milk when it is boiling, they go up and down, while quality is more stable. What is happening with coffee quality in Nicaragua? The cupper-buyer in the story gives us a troubling indication: it could be that we do not have a good taste for coffee, and even so produce good export beans. Maybe.

Responding to the question, in this article we describe the situation of coffee yield and quality, we explain reasons why, we propose a path for improvement, and in the end provide conclusions that summarize the findings and leave the reader with the approach that should guide us. Even though the story about “good coffee” refers to national markets, and specifically to that of coffee shops, in this article we work more on coffee exports, whose quality is also connected to the quality of the coffee offered in the coffee shops of the country. We do this in good measure from the experience of Aldea Global, an association that sells more than 150,000 qq of coffee a year, and from the space of the dry mill where we want to look at the coffee chain, including its production and commercialization.

1.    Coffee Yield and Quality

The prices of goods and products in markets frequently vary, as do interest rates on money; in contrast, the productivity and quality of an agricultural or non-agricultural product are less unstable, change more slowly. In the last 40 years the productivity of several crops has been maintained with minimal variation: for example, coffee, the crop that this article addresses, varied from 9.23 to 12 qq export coffee per manzana[2] over a 50-year period!

Prices for coffee vary every day in New York (international point of reference) and in local markets; while the demand for quality coffee is increasing in international markets. In the 1990s there were few brands, among which fair-trade brand stood out. In contrast, in the current millennium there are dozens of brands  (rainforest, bird friendly, utz, 4C, Nespresso AAA, café practices, etc) and denominations of origin or geographic indication (Juan Valdez, Colombia; Marcala, Honduras; Blue Mountain, Jamaica; Volcán de Oro, Guatemala; Tarrazú, Costa Ríca) which illustrates the growing world demand for a quality product. Nevertheless, precisely when the demand for quality coffee is increasing, the yield and score that measures the quality of coffee in Nicaragua is dropping: see Graphs 1 and 2[3]. The yield we refer to is the quantity of pounds of parchment coffee (with 50 % of humidity) that are needed to get 100 lbs of export quality coffee (with between 10-12 % of humidity) – subtracting  a number of pounds of imperfect coffee (broken, black, severe insect damaged, withered beans). The quality score, for its part, measures fragrancy, aroma, taste, acidity, body, uniformity and sweetness of the coffee. This is expressed by cupping points: from 70-80 is “common or commercial coffee”, 80-83 are “specialty coffees”, 84-89 “regional exemplary plus +”, 90-95 is “Exemplary coffees” and 95 and above are “unique coffees”[4].

Graph 1 shows us that to get 100 lbs of export coffee in the middle of the 1990s 215 lbs of parchment coffee was needed, then 3 more pounds, and since 2010 it shot up requiring 232 lbs by 2020. In that same period the rate of imperfect coffee has increased from less than 5lbs/qq in the 1990s (and export quality coffee of 96-98%) to more than 10 lbs/qq in 2020 (and export quality coffee of 85-90%). The same thing is happening with coffee producer families, in the 1990s with 18 to 19 buckets of raw cherry coffee they were able to get a load of coffee (200 lbs of parchment coffee), and in 2020 that load required more than 22 buckets of raw cherry coffee, “My coffee weighs less and less” observe the small producers.

Graph 2 shows us that coffee quality, after jumping between 1990-2000 from 80 to 84 (range of “regional exemplary plus+”), thanks to the differentiating actions of cooperatives within the fair trade framework (Mendoza et al, 2012; Mendoza, 2012[5]), has been systematically dropping, finding ourselves now in “specialty coffees” with scores of 82, 81 and 80. Organizations that are looking for quality coffee are going find it with difficulty: a score of 84 you will find in no more than 15% of total coffee, the rest is “commercial coffee” with scores below 82.


Table 1. Evolution of coffee production, Central American countries (in 1,000 sacks of 60 kg)
1990/91 1999/00 2009/10 2018/19
Honduras 1568 2985 3603 7328
Nicaragua 461 1554 1871 2510
Guatemala 3271 5120 3835 4007
Costa Rica 2562 2485 1477 1427
El Salvador 2465 2598 1075 761
Panama 215 166 138 130

So while markets are increasing their demand for quality coffee, because the societies´ tastes are improving and differentiating, and countries like Colombia; and Costa Rica are out ahead responding to these international and national demands, and Honduras is taking huge steps in production volume, quality, organization and branding[6], Nicaragua is being overlooking and is losing terrain (See Table 1 that compares the production volume among Central American countries from 1990/1 to 2018/9: Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama are going down; Guatemala is maintaining their levels; Nicaragua is growing and Honduras is unstoppable). Even though we are paying attention to volume, let us focus on our question: What is causing this systematic drop in coffee yield and quality in Nicaragua?

2.    Elements that are affecting this quality and yield

These healthy or broken beans, with good favor or undrinkable, are determined by human actions in the space of farms, wet mills (pulper, washing and drying) and dry mills (drying, hulling reprocessing and selection). After looking at Graphs 1 and 2, what are their causes? The three responses commonly heard are: there is a scarcity of labor, and therefore the coffee ferments on the plant itself; that producer organizations increasingly are buying poor quality coffee from intermediaries and non-members, which is why their own members become disillusioned with their organizations, and have quit producing quality coffee; and that the State, in contrast to Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras, is not investing in coffee growing, nor in positioning the country internationally.

These three responses have some basis. In this section we will focus on two elements of the context, climate change and lack of liquidity/resources, and within this framework, coffee growing culture and the dry milling process.

2.1  Climate variability

Climate variation, combined with farm neglect, affect coffee quality and yields. We provide three elements that illustrate this fact. The first, in 2012 this combination of factors contributed to the fact that coffee rust and anthracnose wiped out a good part of the coffee (Mendoza, 2013[7]; Brenes et al, 2016), particularly the varieties of caturra, maragogipe and bourbon –varieties of the arabica species. Caturra constituted more than 60% of the coffee in the country, considered to be a high- quality variety[8]. As a consequence, caturra coffee plants were replaced by catimor plants; catimor is more resistant to rust, has the potential for producing larger volumes, but has a modest contribution to coffee quality. Catimor today represents more than 60% of the total coffee in the country.

The second element, mold and coffee with phenol. One hears more frequently that coffee has “severe mold” and even “phenol”. The mold is from over fermentation, be that on the plant itself, or because the pulped and washed coffee was not immediately dried, which in turn is due to rain, heat, or lack of coffee pickers. The phenol is the change in the chemical composition within the bean as an effect of drought and heat in the coffee plants, as well as the storage of wet coffee; coffee in humid environments gets dampened, generating fungi that produce the taste of mold and phenol. Generally, when cupped these coffees are classified as “undrinkable”.

Finally, withered beans, beans that even though red, have a ripe side and another speckled side; small beans also are an effect of climate change. In the last 3 cycles coffee has been observed that had a good appearance, but had small hair or fuzz that was left on the bean, which is due to lack of water. These types of affected beans are on the increase, made worse in the 2019/20 cycle due to the fact that during 2019 there were droughts of up to 30º C, and very hot early mornings, which caused uneven and misshapen maturation. If between September and October it either rained a lot, or it did not rain at all, that affected the ripening of the coffee, which, no matter how good a job is done in the wet mill, will result in insect damaged and spoiled beans. All this has affected the coffee yield and quality. Table 2 summarizes the physical defects of the beans and their possible causes


Table 2. Coffee defects and their causes
Physical defects of coffee Causes
Climate change Beans with brown or black coloring Lack of water during the development of the fruit
Misshapen and wrinkled beans Poor development of the plant due to drought or lack of nutrients
Beans with small and dark perforations Attack by insects (coffee berry borer or weevil)
Scarcity of resources Yellow colored bean Problem of soil nutrients
Management of farm and wet mill Shell bean Over ripened raw cherries picked up from ground
Broken/chipped/cut bean Poorly calibrated pulper
Withered bean Prolonged fermentation


Beans with changes in its normal coloration Prolonged storage and poor storage conditions
Beans with intense yellow caramel or reddish coloring Delay between picking and pulping
Silverskin, can tend toward reddish brown coloring Dirty fermentation tank, use of contaminated water, overheating, storage of wet coffee.
Management of dry milling Flat bean with partial fractures Coffee walked on during drying process; hulling of wet coffee
Bean with white veins Dampened after being dried
Source: based on Federacafe – Comunidad Madrid,

2.2  The “suffocating embrace” of prices

Added to this adverse environment is the so called “suffocating embrace”, which is a harmful embrace that is asphyxiating the peasantry. With the “left arm”, coffee prices go up and down, like milk when boiled, but seen over a 100 year period producer prices are decreasing in terms of the final value of coffee (Mendoza y Bastiaensen, 2003; Mendoza 2013[9]); and with the “right arm”, the prices of farm inputs are systematically rising. So, this “big embrace”, the price of coffee dropping and the prices of inputs and capital rising, is suffocating producer families. If costs of production surpass $100/quintal, and the price of coffee drop to close or equal to $100, it is difficult for coffee to receive its 3 fertilizations, 2 moments for shade management, weeding and 4 leaf sprays a year. If the application of inputs drops, that not only affects the volume of coffee, but also increases the rate of imperfect beans, and lowers the cupping score – for example, it is difficult for a bean with little fertilization to ripen properly. In addition, the catimor variety, that has more potential in terms of production volume, also is more demanding in terms of fertilizers – what has a greater yield, eats and drinks more.

This “embrace” was more suffocating in the last two years (2018 and 2019). In the 2018/19 cycle coffee prices dropped to $98 in September 2018, and to $100 in December 2018, while prices for agro-chemicals rose by 30%, as a result of the new tax policy in the country starting February 28, 2019[10]. In addition, due to the political crisis of the country, financial institutions (formal banks and micro-finance organizations) decided not to provide credit, except for Aldea Global, that instead expanded their rural credit portfolio and geographic coverage; due to that same crisis, international coffee buyers signed fewer purchase contracts, contracts that tend to allow cooperatives to get loans from the social banking sector. In other words, producer families did not have resources, which is why they applied little or no chemical or organic inputs. The effects of this are expressed now in the 2019/20 cycle in higher rates of imperfections and lower coffee quality.

Organizations are also experiencing another type of “embrace”. With the “left arm” they feel international pressure for better coffee quality, and with the “right arm” the parchment coffee (APO) that they receive from the producers is of lower quality. Between 1996 and 2010 it was just the reverse, the demand for quality coffee was less, and the producer families were providing better quality coffee, which is why it was relatively simple to sell large volumes of coffee. They were the times when the international perception of the quality of coffee in Nicaragua was good; that perception changed over the last 8 years, the coffee quality of the country is in question, correspondingly buyers are diverting their paths to other countries.

2.3  Coffee management on the farm

Even though climate change and the scarcity of resources through the “suffocating embrace” are having an impact on coffee yield and quality, coffee growing families also are experiencing structural changes within themselves. Producer families who established their coffee farms and other crops starting in 1990, after the “big war”, are getting beyond 60 years of age, which is why part of their offspring are taking on farms now divided up through inheritance.

This transition from one generation to another is facing challenges. First, farming is less diversified, it is more specialized in coffee or cattle or vegetables. This means that, in the case of coffee, families receive income practically only once a year. Secondly, a good number of the generation that are taking over farms now, inherited that culture of “coffee growers”, with the difference that now they only have 2 or 4 manzanas of coffee, and many times those manzanas are affected by rust and anthracnose. Third, with the end to the agricultural frontier, crop rotation with uncultivated areas is reduced, and with that, land has lost fertility (“it is tired”); the low application of inputs is only able to maintain production volumes, which is why the farm is less profitable for them. Fourth, the work culture “from sunup to sundown” of the older generations has ended, the new generation that grew up under the belief that “a pencil weighs less than a machete” mostly works only in the morning; and many times, erroneously interpreting what it means to be “coffee growers”, only want to “be in charge”. With only 2 mzs of coffee!

Consequently, that generation in transition that feels itself to be “coffee growers”, lack income in the months from March to October, in a context of climate changes and under the “big embrace”, have not been careful with their farms: i.e. take care to regulate their pulpers, not pulp too early nor wash too late, but respect the fact that coffee needs 12 hours of fermentation, calibrate the pulper depending on the coffee variety, being watchful over the drying…In a parallel fashion, the communities where they live seem to have lost that social warmth that encouraged them to cooperate, now they have less or nothing in their gardens (“my Mom´s green thumb”), and nearly work only on coffee, so have less reasons to exchange…The absence of that social cushion seems to put a damper on their economic life.

2.4  Coffee management in the dry mill

The dry mills receive the coffee that is the fruit of the effort of those producer families who find themselves economically, socially and environmentally asphyxiated. That is why this coffee comes in the form of shell beans, broken beans, with strident flavors, insect damaged, moldy, or healthy, clean beans with acidity and great flavor and aroma…In the dry mill they can take some actions to improve that coffee, even though their possibilities for maneuvering are reduced.

They cannot reduce the imperfection rate, they measure it, and can reprocess the coffee to achieve a certain level of quality, and with a certain number of defects that the markets demand. Likewise with the mold, even severe mold can be removed in drying with the sun; in the case that they are not able to get rid of that mold, they separate that coffee so that it does not affect the rest of the coffee, and sell it separately.  They can manage it in micro-lots and have more control over its defects, mix varieties and improve something of its quality; but nothing more. They can also keep the yield from dropping too much, if they avoid trails of coffee on broken plastic or loss of beans from moving coffee from one place to another.

They can do that, if the dry mill is managed honestly, transparently and with access to the right technology. It is common to hear workers of the dry mills say that “they switched out the coffee” of such and such cooperative, or such and such members, that “the coffee got mold in the truck because there was no patio space to unload it”; or hear managers say that “they reprocessed it twice” without the owners of the coffee being present to know if they really did “reprocess it”, and whether they did it because it was necessary, or only to earn $2 or 3 per quintal, or that the “yield was 235 lbs for 100lbs” without there being proof of the weight, and control over the movement of the coffee in the reception area to the patio, to the warehouse, to the huller, to the sack…In many cases, those rumors are unfounded, but as the saying goes, “where there is smoke there is fire.”

Also from an external perspective, it is heard that buyers are looking for scores of 84, and in the dry mill, on not finding coffee from anywhere with that score, and on not being able to improve coffee quality based on re-processing the coffee with less than 5 defects, “they send coffee with a score of 82 saying that it is 84”. This might work once, in the short term, but in the medium and long term these practices of deceit undermine good relationships with buyers.

Even when the dry mill is managed honestly and transparently, they can incur in deficient management and neglect the importance of being committed to coffee quality. They could order containers of coffee with 11 defects, and that in the end they are prepared with 10 defects. It could be that a lot of coffee is classified as second quality, because it has fermented beans or some other damage, but that it is recoverable as first quality coffee with timely cupping, preparing the coffee with a smaller number of defects and working on it with different preparations. These errors can be due to the fact that there was a change in personnel, and this new staff did not have enough training and coordination to be watchful over the coffee drying; or it could be due to inefficient organization, top-down with office managers, which limits the responsibility of each person and makes them dependent on doing work that only is directed from above. A form of vertical organization that takes agency away from the people doing the work digs its own grave. If dry mills only bet on volume, not quality, they mix coffee indiscriminately, not guided by the cupping scores, even worse if the container to be sold is commercial grade 79, 80 and 81. They even store coffee with different weights, without controlling the coffee yield [resulting from the milling process]

The management in the dry mills also has to do with technology. The drying is done by the sun and hundreds of people, mostly women, under an unforgiving sun. Given that workers´ pay is low, we assume that they are not thinking about coffee quality, but about that sun and the time when the day will end. The consequence of that type of drying is that the beans end up uneven and over-dried. Also, most of the dry mills work with old processing equipment (huller, densimeters, vibrating bean separators, elevators, mechanical driers and electronic bean selectors), or new equipment from cheap brands, instead of the latest generation in quality and technology.

Concluding this section, the causes of coffee yield and quality are found throughout the chain, from the farm to its roasting. A family can pick just the red beans, and even so lose  quality for not drying it quickly enough, or because of lack of space in the dry mill, it is left wet for two days. Several actors can make the effort to achieve good coffee, but the increase in temperature and drought can affect the coffee plants. You can have quality coffee, and even so damage it when the appropriate technology is missing – the latest generation. The quality is changed, not from one month to another, but in terms of years and decades. Coffee, and farming itself, is a long- term art, and involves several hands and minds.

3.    Governing coffee

In the years between 1990 to 2000, it was the cooperatives who took on the leadership in improving coffee quality in the country; they did it in a context of relative peace, slight impact of climate change, and more than anything inspired by the fair trade movement. Today the context is different, climate change has worsened, the generational transition has not found its way and the fair trade movement lost strength and became bureaucratized[11], even so, cooperatives and associations can promote the improvement of coffee quality again. How? Figure 1 shows the importance of combining a coffee farming culture with an alliance for a quality cup and principles of well-being, and processing that adds value. These three mechanisms, mediated through coordination in learning, can make a difference. These are not proposals that are pulled from the sleeve of some magician, nor just the result of data analysis and literature, they come from observing and experiencing in the field this combination that the figure expresses as the pathway.

The first pillar, differentiating action on the part of producer families. That they renovate and repopulate their coffee fields, and scale up in their treatment of coffee processing. They can recover varieties of arabica coffee with high quality potential, and grow them under agro-forestry systems, adapting their management in accordance with their variety[12]. A problem with catimor, for example, is when the producer gives it the same treatment that he gives a native variety; catimor should be picked when it is red (not speckled nor green), providing it more fermentation time than the caturra variety. To feed the soil (fertilize it), the chemical or organic input should be based on the formula resulting from the soil analysis. For the producer family to get those inputs, it must have in-kind credit under arrangements with input companies that lower their prices by volume purchasing, which is what Aldea Global does, and it works. They can experiment with coffee  processing (wet milling); for example, so as to not mix qualities in the pulping stage, they can have a water tank that serves as a separator of floater of green, empty or poorly formed beans; or manage the fermentation by coffee varieties.[13]. This requires a new culture of being coffee producers, who are motivated by a spirit of studying their realities (farms, families and communities), observing them, investigating new information, recording data, analyzing it, being guided by soil analyses and climate forecasts to manage their farms[14]; all this is more possible with the current generation, which has higher levels of formal education, and makes more use of the internet.

The second pillar, the construction of direct connections between buyers and groups of producer families, based on quality cupping scores and principles. In terms of quality, each producer turns in coffee individually, and the dry mill can manage it by group and lots, register the information and have the coffee cupped by farm, so that buyers are guided by the cupping score; a family receives payment/price based on the quality of their coffee. It is assumed that they will invest more to improve the quality of their coffee even more.

In terms of principles, Aldea Global has developed a procedure and mechanisms for providing incentives for good agricultural practices, which can inspire other organizations in the country. What does Aldea Global do? It provides awards for compliance with principles, like having an orderly farm, not using prohibited chemicals, paying laborers in compliance with the labor regulations in the country, management of honey waters, protection and conservation of nature, environmentally friendly practices, recycling containers. These awards depend on the score that each member achieves; producers with a score of 70% have access to “x” amount of award per quintal;  those that achieve 80% a bigger award, those with 90% an even bigger award, and those who achieve 100% get the “big” prize.

There can be producers who might receive a good price because of their cupping score, and not receive an award, if they get less than 70% in terms of their compliance with the principles. Even though it is more probable that a producer family with more than 70% compliance with principles would have coffee with a cupping score higher than 82. The logic is that complying with the principles is taking care of the farm and the well-being of the family, which is also going to be expressed in coffee quality and in good yields. Consequently, if buyers (national and international) and certifiers visit these producer families, and help them to establish themselves, they will be betting on the quality of family life, which leads to quality coffees in a sustainable and lasting manner.

The third pillar, the organization of the dry mill guided by values of honesty and transparency. To add value to coffee quality, the administration of the dry mill must have a counterweight in an autonomous board of directors with the capacity for supervision, and the owners of the coffee (members, cooperatives or organized groups) must have access to see the patios where their coffee is found, review their labels, be there at the moment of hulling, and review the data registry on the weight of the coffee at reception, on the patio, in the warehouse, before hulling and after hulling. With this three-way relationship of counterweights (administration, board members and owners of the coffee), the dry mill can manage micro-lots of coffee that come from different geographies of the country, and using different types of drying (natural, with honey and washed). This implies coordinating along the entire chain; for example, natural coffee implies picking only the red beans (none green or speckled), raw cherry coffee is transported that same day to the patio for drying, thus keeping the coffee from fermenting. The micro-lots of more than 50qq export coffee can be treated with differentiated qualities and respond to the demand of small roasters in the world. It also implies making use of appropriate technology (latest generation), like an industrial plant that treats coffee from its raw cherry state, thus preventing coffee from losing weight (2-3% in the fermentation and another 2-3% for the 12-13 days of drying) and conserving its quality.

These three elements of improvement are possible if a culture of learning is developed among the different actors around coffee. This is cultivating a spirit of investigating, observing, asking questions, recording information, taking notes, analyzing information and making use of the technology that todays world offers, including technology for massifying soil analyses, so that information flows to producers.  The producer family can manage catimor or maragogipe varieties if they learn how to do it in a differentiated way; coffee drying will add value if people know how their actions make a difference…Without awakening the worm of doubt that each one of us has inside us, any work will be boring, and any information will pass under our noses without us noticing; guided by questions and a procedure for organizing and analyzing information, every human person will be mobilized, taking on their task as a mission that is worthwhile carrying out.

4.    Conclusions

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time, more intelligently. Henry Ford

We began the article with the question about what is happening with coffee quality. That word quality is an aperture to agriculture and our society, it tells us on a small scale what is happening to us. And what is happening? Coffee yields and quality in the country are getting worse. What is the reason? Climate change, prices (of coffee and inputs), neglect of the farms and the not very transparent management of the dry mills, which are concentrated in few hands. The latter can be seen in light of the type of drying-hulling in countries like Guatemala and Colombia, where drying is done on the farms themselves and in grassroots organizations, without the drying and hulling being concentrated in few hands; or in countries like Costa Rica, where an industrial plant processes coffee from its raw cherry state to its hulling, with a positive effect on coffee quality.

In contrast to Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras itself, Nicaragua has not had a State that invests in coffee growing with a long-term perspective. There has not existed an institute that studies each coffee variety, or that has laboratories for innovating varieties. The State does not regulate the weighing of coffee in commercial trading, and within the dry mills. There are no financial incentives nor human recognition for producing quality coffee. There is a need for a State that would work to position the brand of coffee of the country in the outside world, and that at the same time might work for the population to replace sugar with a good taste for coffee.

But at the same time Nicaragua has more than 30% of coffee producers organized into cooperatives and associations. Among those organizations is Aldea Global, which is committed to the use of technology and information, which it takes to the producers to manage their farms based on soil analysis and climate forecasts[15]. Also, Aldea Global is committed in the long term to improving coffee quality and yields based on technology that would help o control the temperature and humidity of the beans, and based on automated systems with sensors. These elements will guide the technical assistance provided to producer families and in the dry mills.

The fact that yields and quality are dropping is an opportunity, to paraphrase Henry Ford. Of course, Ford himself was surpassed by the Toyota industry, in spite of that, his phrase continues to have value[16], particularly seen as a society. How can coffee quality be improved “more intelligently”? Organizations (cooperatives, associations and businesses) must join efforts to organize a space for learning around coffee farms in association with other crops. Without investigation-learning, the different actors will be walking in the dark, and the producers, like oxen, will prefer their old yoke and sell coffee to traditional intermediaries, without concern about yields and quality, which means that in the long run the entire country will lose, including the producers themselves. A producer family can fill itself with passion, learn and seek their own vision, if organizations become democratic, transparent, efficient, and if together they organize information supported by technological and informational innovations, like big data and artificial intelligence (machine learning). This type of organization, like Aldea Global, having this learning infrastructure, would be able to accompany the entire coffee chain and other crops.

The old Fordist model continues guiding a good part of the coffee in Latin America, also expressed in its political structure of exclusion and inequality; so it is that we hear that “more volume, more earnings”, which lead us to coffee shops that the story at the beginning of the article talks about. Nicaragua can recover ground and position its quality coffee based on adopting a culture of learning, supported by information management and the latest generation technology. It could be that money might be a limiting factor in this, but like the history of so many innovations teach us, more important is the vision of transforming the countryside, pursuing product quality, pushed by families who are improving their lives. In this way we could hear that “the better the quality, the better our lives” which could include improving our own taste for quality coffee. It is not a matter of “adding money” and having coffee quality, it is a matter of “thinking more and running around less”, as they say in “tiki-taka soccer”.[17]

[1] Javier, Ivania and Warren are from Aldea Global (, president, vice manger and manager, respectively; René is a consultant to rural organizations and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation ( Even though most of the authors are from Aldea Global, we maintained objectivity in the analysis, and we added data and experiences of Aldea Global when they were needed.

[2] According to the 2017 Annual Statistics from the Central Bank of Nicaragua, the average coffee yield in 10 years between 2007 and 2017 was 11.97qq/mz; in the  2018 Annual report, a certain amount of improvement was noted between 2014/5 with 14.7qq/mz, and in the following two cycles 2015/16 and 2016/17 with 16.5qq/mz. We still do not have data for the last two cycles (2017/18 and 2018/19). For a study on the decade of the 1980s, see José L. Rocha, 2003, “Revolution in Nicaraguan Coffee Growing” in: Anuario de Estudios Centroamericanos. San José: Universidad de Costa Rica 29 (1-2).

[3] Both graphs are based on information from several coffee buyer organizations, and on data that we have followed since the 1990s, seer: R. Mendoza, 2003, La paradoja del café: el gran negocio mundial y la gran crisis campesina. Managua: Nitlapan-UCA; R. Mendoza, 2013, Gatekeeping and the struggle over development in the Nicaraguan Segovias, PhD thesis, University of Antwerp..

[4] The classification by scores is based on: Susana Gomez, “¿Cómo se determina la calidad del café?” en: QuéCafé,

[5] R. Mendoza, M.E. Gutiérrez, M. Preza and E. Fernández, 2012, “Las cooperativas de café de Nicaragua: ¿Disputando el capital del café a las grandes empresas?” en: Observatorio Social, Cuadernillo No. 13 El Salvador,; For English version see: ;  R. Mendoza, 2012, “Coffee with the Aroma of Coop” in: Revista Envío No. 372. Managua: UCA

[6] According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), in 2018 Honduras was the seventh largest coffee producer and exporter in the world. In the last 10 years it has become the largest producer in Central America; in Latin America it is behind Brazil and Colombia. While the weight of coffee in farm production value dropped in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama, in the case of Honduras it increased between 1980 and 2011 (G.C. Brenes, C. Soto, P. Ocampo, J. Rivera, A. Navarro, G.M. Guatemala y S. Villanueva, 2016, La situación y tendencias de la producción de café en América Latina y el Caribe. San José: IICA y CIATEJ).

[7] R. Mendoza, 2013, “Who is responsible for the Coffee Rust Plague and What can be done”, in: Envio 379, Managua: UCA,

[8] In terms of the effect of coffee rust and anthracnose in the region, Nicaragua was the country most affected; the neighboring country, Honduras was not much affected at all (See: Brenes et al, 2016).

[9] R. Mendoza y J. Bastiaensen, 2003, “Fair trade and the coffee crisis in the Nicaraguan Segovias. In: Small Enterprise Development, Vol. 14.2.

[10] If we add other costs to this, like labor, the situation is even more “asphyxiating.” Note that even though the price for a bucket of picked coffee is the lowest in Central America, the fact that a load of coffee (200 lbs of parchment coffee) that required 19 buckets prior to 2016, currently requires more than 22 buckets; this means that the producer families are paying for an additional 3 buckets, which increases the cost of production, which does not necessarily benefit the workers.

[11] Samanth Subramanian (2019, Is fair trade finished? The Guardian, analizes how Fair Trade (FLO), based on prices, is losing ground with the abandonment of the FLO seal on the part of large corporations, questioning whether fair trade is achieving what it promises, and preferring instead to organize their own seals and mechanisms to measure their social, economic and environmental impact. We have also warned from Central America about the involution of fair trade, see R. Mendoza, 2017, “Toward the Reinvention of Fair Trade, or “Hacia la re-invención del comercio justo”, en: Tricontinental, Bélgica,

[12] Aldea Global supports agro-forestry systems: 1,320 of its members are implementing it in 1500 mzs. There are also other organizations in the country that support these system; what is unique about Aldea Global is that they do it with the purposeof producer families improving their coffee quality.

[13] These experiments include testing the form of management common in Costa Rica, of receiving raw cherry coffee, and in a mechanized way, separating ripe beans from speckled and green ones, and then passing the uniform ripe beans directly from the pulper to the mechanical drier, eliminating fermentation. Ivan Petrich (2018, “Fermentación: Qué es & Cómo Mejora la Calidad del Café”, explains the advantages of aerobic and anaerobic fermentation for coffee quality.

[14] For people of any age, but particularly young women and men, we have a guide to help them become students of their realities. See: René Mendoza, 2019, Jovenes y la oportunidad de construir puentes hacia el futuro. Una Guía para investigar e innovar. Managua: Nitlapan-UCA. It is also available at: . Aldea Global has information on more than 12 members with whom it works, information that anyone can access.

[15] Aldea Global is the only organization in Nicaragua that, starting in March 2020 will have their own first version of their app, to pilot providing personalized technical assistance by cell phone to 150 producers. The biggest challenge in this will not be providing that information, but using it. The app is a software progran that those 150 people will Access through their cell phones.

[16] A  2019 film “Ford vs Ferrari”, directed by James Mangold and written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, shows the change that Henry Ford II underwent in the competition with Ferrari. That precise moment of change: not just producing quantities of vehicles but winning competitions, illustrates the spirit we are seeking.

[17] Style of Barcelona where they pass between one another while opposing team wears itself out running after the ball, and when an opening appears, attack the goal.

Well Said

From time to time I have reproduced the writings of others at this blog site, because they have stated ideas so powerfully.  I have elected to do it again, given the words written by Kathleen at the Center for Development in Central America  (CDCA).  Kathleen has been quoted here before because what is in her heart is so well said in her words.  The following is excerpted from the CDCA May 2019 newsletter.

My mother has said over and over that one of the two things Jesus wished he had never said was, “The poor you will have with you always.”  Why?

Because so many Christians use that phrase to justify pouring money into church buildings and doing nothing for the poor.  But what if we re-examined that phrase, and instead of looking at it as meaning an impossible goal of eradicating poverty, look at that phrase as an indictment of the rich?

It is true that, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed,” a quote from Frank Buchman.

Staying with my daughter in the Northeast, it is easy to let the poor slip my mind.  As she recuperate from surgery, my daughter is watching mindless television so she can crochet and heal.  One of her shows is “Top Chef.”  I have found it addictive but also, when I remember the poor in Nicaragua, nauseating.

In Nicaragua with climate change and with the socio-political crisis there, people are looking more and more at hunger.  It is easy to forget that as the Top Chef judges say to a contestant that the prime rib was not plated to please the eye.

It is easy for the wealthy or the intellectual class in Nicaragua to create and foment a crisis when their children will be fed and given medical care or even schooling if a new government comes in and discontinues social programs.

It is easy to forget that people are sweating and bearing unbelievable heat when there is cool air at a touch.  When you have food to eat and can jump in an air-conditioned car, it is easy not to feel the urgency that climate change should be our top priority (when diesel prices had dropped, one opposition leader said that the Nicaraguan government was doing the people a disservice by investing in renewable energy!).

A Brazilian priest, Frei Betto, helps those of us who would say we choose to stand with the poor by telling us that, “The head thinks where the feet stand.”

He says that, “It is impossible to be a leftist without dirtying one’s shoes in the soil where the people live, struggle, suffer, enjoy and celebrate their beliefs and victories.  To engage in theory without practice is to play the game of the right.”

Many tell us that our opinion of what is happening in Nicaragua is just wrong, and maybe it is; but Fr. Betto also says, “Choose the risk of making mistakes with the poor over the pretension of being right without them.”

And so, we risk the mistakes….

Thank you, Kathleen….



The Bitter Cold

The power of brutal winter has been felt everywhere, it seems.  Here in the heartland of the U.S., actual temperatures reached -37 degrees Fahrenheit, with windchill factors as low as -55.  Unfortunately, the barrage was not a one-day phenomenon but an extended period of bitterness.

It all began as a rather typical shift in the climate, not at all unusual for this  latitude.  Many even showed an exuberance for the change, moving outdoors with their pent-up energies in an open display of their unwillingness to cower before the inclemency of such frigid temperaments.  Often there is resolve to be found in collective survival against a common  foe like the icy dispassion of hard winter.  We grow in the belief that we can withstand it, together, and we draw energy from it.

But we were reminded daily of the threat to life and health if we did not heed the warnings to remain inside and avoid confronting the cold.  Travel was not only not advised, but barricades were put up on some main thoroughfares so that rescue of those who attempted flight to more hospitable areas would not become necessary.  Some  citizens were actually arrested for venturing out to places where they had been forbidden to be.  Sadly, deaths occurred, in addition to many injuries.

We have experienced dangerously cold moments in the past, but this one seemed more threatening, somehow.

Some people suggest that the advent of cell phone and social media technology contributed to the deeper feeling of danger.  Instant reporting of cold, and deaths resulting from it, accompanied by photos of people with frostbite injuries, amplified the seriousness of the cold.    We were able to learn of each new impact from the cold front as it happened, making the onslaught feel more continuously brutal than we might otherwise have felt.   We watched video footage of brave demonstrations where the astonishing effects of the cold front were shown: have you ever seen a pot of boiling water immediately vaporized by the severe cold?  Those activities made for indelible images about just how cold it had become.

Most schools closed, and remained closed, with parents too nervous to send their children outside and schools recognizing the danger to their pupils and teachers alike.  Even the colleges and universities were forced to shut down, in fear for the safety of the students and professors.  When our most venerable institutions were forced to take such action, we knew that the severity of the front was real, and that resolutions of standing up to frigid conditions must  yield to the realities of real danger.

There have been serious economic costs to the deep freeze.  Of course, tourism always takes a hit when the climate isn’t friendly.  It’s uncertain how many people chose to stay away from the harsh conditions.  And this is normally a destination which people frequently visit for its beauty and warmth!  But shops and commerce came to a standstill in the face of the blasts, suffering losses that are not likely to be made up soon.

It’s unclear what the remainder of the winter might be like.  Some forecasts suggest that an early thaw could occur and that we all might return to some degree of normalcy.  Others are convinced that this polar vortex is likely to be a more frequent presence in our lives; prior to last year, I had never even heard of it, but during 2018 and to the present it has certainly become a familiar condition.

The entire experience underscores everyone’s necessity for having protective layers against the winds….

A Tale of Two Countries

I was just thinking….

The reality is that there is a singular head of the country who has caused some very deep divides among the population.  He is known for saying  controversial things about his opponents and his own achievements.   He governs in a very hands-on fashion, a style which many call autocratic.  That style is accentuated by the fact that he has family members serving within his administration, affirming decisions and positions which are not always popular.  It’s not helped by the fact that he is wealthy and that there are so many within the country who are in serious need.

The government has seemed to be consumed by controlling the press, one of the foundations of a strong democratic government. It has repeatedly discounted any news story that is critical of policy or the president himself.  As a result, the president only speaks with media which represents his positions favorably.  For example, even long after the election results of last year, the administration continues to challenge how many voted.

Even in this age of unprecedented political divide, where polarization is the norm, the administration has adopted an extraordinary agenda of intense marginalization of those who do not support the party in power.  It might mean losing one’s job.  Loyalty is prized above all other traits, even at the expense of truth and integrity.  Within the administration, officials follow only the party line as the singular means to the truth, even to the demonization of those who disagree.

A continuing puzzle is the apparent friendliness of the government toward Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin.  Unlike a vast majority of nations of the Western Hemisphere, this government has been silent in criticisms of Russia and consistently praising of Putin as a great leader.  Perhaps there is some expectation of return favors in the future, but the government raises suspicions by its unusual posture and kid-glove handling of Russia.   Are we, in fact, independent of “the bear?”

This is one of only three nations to decline participation in the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement.  Whether that effort is sufficient to have a significant impact upon climate change, the country’s unwillingness to participate in the agreement along with 195 other countries creates a signal of dissonance with the rest of the global community.  There is a great deal of disappointment within the country over the unwillingness of government to work with the other nations of the planet in addressing the global warming threat.

So are my musings about Nicaragua, with some interesting comparisons to the U.S., or vice versa?  The reality of both countries is that there is great distress as a result of increasing polarity and fewer opportunities for full participation in  society.

Maybe we’re more alike than we think….





There is no chocolate without organized family agriculture

There is no chocolate without organized family agriculture

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Eve left the Garden of Eden over chocolate! Anonymous.

Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. Forrest Gump

The exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Bible says, had a decisive moment when, pursued by Pharaoh and his Army, they arrived desperately to the sea, and then Moises raised his staff and the sea opened up; so they turned a page and wrote their history. The chocolate industry predicted that by 2020 they will need 30% more chocolate; nevertheless, the cacao supply does not seem to be responding to the demand. Said figuratively, the state institutions, the market and society, like Moises, are raising the staff of productivity, quality, inclusive businesses and fair trade so that there might be more cacao and Eve might have a reason to not go back to Eden, but the sea is not opening up! Why? What “staff” is needed for the sea to open? This article deals with that question.

For full article:…/Artículo-cacao-oficial-eng.pdf

[1] René ( has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (, an associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University (Belgium) and a member of the COSERPROSS Cooperative RL. We note that the name of the municipality “Sasha”, the Dalila cooperative, the ABC and RDA NGO, Flesh company, and the last names Konrad, Peñaranda and Peña, mentioned in this article, are ficticious. We did this to protect those identities from any inconvenience that this article might cause them.ículo-cacao-oficial-eng.pdf

Step Lightly

I recently took the opportunity to travel to some places I had never been before.  Specifically, my wife and I visited for the first time the jewels of the Southwest United States:  Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.  Such an experience is many things: renewing, educational, inspiring, humbling, a privilege and even existential in nature.  Especially at this time of great upheaval within our country, the opportunity to “pull back,” even for a short time, provided a welcome relief.  And an important lesson.

Most of the sites we visited are well-known to those who have visited the Parks, and the trails leading to these vantage points are well-marked and well-trod by millions of visitors before us.  And at each of those trailheads, the Park Service feels obligated to post a message to its visitors, one which might seem unnecessary in the shadows of majestic peaks and rims of jaw-dropping chasms, but which is offered nonetheless.  It’s a small sign which reads, “Your Steps Matter.”                                                

The sign is simply a reminder of the transience of these landscapes and our impacts upon them.  They are fragile.  People too often have the desire to leave their own imprints on these monuments of creation, as if to satisfy a need to make a statement of existence, to leave their own modern-day petroglyphs about which future visitors might wonder.   Perhaps it was the reflective nature of our trip or my tendency to look for hidden meanings where none may be intended, but the words on the sign prompted other thoughts for me.

Our steps do matter, whether for the health of ground vegetation, rock formations or water quality in the parks.   Trees that have withstood the extremes of nature for more than 100 years are nonetheless dependent upon “breathing space” from the hordes of human visitors who come to these sites constantly to witness the immense majesty of the natural world.  It’s among the places where it’s not OK to take “the road less traveled,” as Frost suggested, and where we’re discouraged to blaze our own trails, in deference to the survival of other life.

In light of the signage, I felt a certain pride at keeping to the paths, as though I was contributing something good to the welfare and sustainability of the parks.  I know that the notion is ridiculous, but staying on the trails was perhaps the one act of preservation that I could make.  But that same sense of self-righteousness led me to consider other steps in my life.

Steps everywhere in our lives matter.  Every stride taken in our journey makes an imprint, leaves a trace, impacts our surroundings. Like the proverbial beating of butterfly wings that affects weather patterns on the other side of the world, we are part of a global tapestry wherein all of us are inextricably dependent upon and impacted by each other.  Choices we make in the U.S. have an impact in Nicaragua.  We might elect to trespass over someone else’s space, and might even be able to “get away with it,” and to do so without detection.  But the space will be changed forever, in ways that we may never know. How and where we walk are matters of choice: we can elect to tread lightly and with respect, or to trample according to our own narrow wills.  Either way, we leave a story for those who follow.  Like our children.  Or our grandchildren.  Or our children’s children’s children.

Our steps are our legacies, like those artifacts we covet from millennia past.  They are the messages we leave behind that attempt to declare our existence and portray the kinds of lives we led.  What a pity if, in our wakes, all that remains are traces of once-resplendent times and places….



The height of injustice is to be deemed just when you are not. Plato

With an open treasure, even the most righteous sins. Saying.

The VII song of the Odyessy tells how the goddess Circe warned Ulysses that the sailors of those waters were so enchanted by the song of the sirens that they went mad and lost control of their ships. To not succumb to that enchantment, Ulysses asked that he be tied to the mast of the ship, and that the oarsmen have wax put in their ears, and ordered that if he, because of the spell of their song, would ask that they free him, instead they should tighten the knots. So it was that Ulysses and his oarsmen were saved, and the sirens, failing in their objective, threw themselves off the cliff.

Facing unfair commercial relations, Fair Trade (FT) emerged as an alternative so that people who organized might improve their lives and be a space of solidarity among different actors beyond their countries´ borders. Nevertheless, the institutional structure of the power relationships under the market rule of elites is like the sirens of the myth, capable of seducing the FT network, of turning it against its own principles, and turning solidarity into just a bunch of words, numbers and papers[1]. How can FT tie itself up to not succumb to the song of the sirens, and in this way, grow, enhancing its FT alternative principles? To respond to this question, we take as given that there are exceptional cooperatives, organizations, and people who confirm the importance of organizing and cultivating global solidarity, and that there are still more successful cooperatives, in countries in the south as well as in the north, in FT as well as outside of it. Nevertheless, in this article we study certain practices of the FT framework that seem to indicate its regression, and on that basis we suggest that FT re-invent itself. To do so we focus on coffee, which constitutes 70% of the volume of what is sold through FT[2].

It should be noted here that this analysis does not presume that all parties in the FT framework will view its conclusions with favor or agreement; indeed, some of the actors within the FT arena are very well-served by the current status of the FT mechanisms. Nor does the author attempt to provide a blueprint for all of the actions necessary to cultivate change. The intention herein is to describe the realities of the FT network as it most often operates, and to draw attention to the ways it could be returned to its original objectives and principles.

[1] Even though strictly speaking currently FT is the organization known as FLO International (Fairtrade Labelling Organization International) and FT-USA (FT-United States), we call “the FT network” the series of cooperatives, certifiers, social banks and buyers who operate under the FT seal.

[2] We have followed the topic of fair trade in coffee since 1996 (See: Mendoza 1996, 2003, 2012a and 2012b; Mendoza & Bastiaensen, 2002).

[pull down full article here]

The Paris agreements on climate change: A path for saving the planet?

The Paris agreements on climate change: A path for saving the planet?

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Pick up a rock in your hand and close you fist around it until it begins to beat, live, speak and move. Sámi Poem

When the waves of the ocean hit our chest, at the same time we feel a current of water pulling our feet in the opposite direction. In the midst of pressures from all sides, on December 12, 2015 representatives of 195 countries meeting in Paris achieved the first universal and binding agreement for saving the planet. In this article we argue that the Paris Accords are like the “waves” that allow us to surf, but we need to discern “the current under the waves”, the undercurrent that could drown us. To do so we start with a brief theoretical framework, then we identify the problem of climate change, we put it in a historical perspective, we list the agreements achieved in Paris and their long term effects, we discern “the current under the waves” of the agreement, we measure the challenges, and putting ourselves on the side of peasant, indigenous and Afrodescendent organizations, we suggest concrete mechanisms for the mitigation of climate change.

  1. The dilemma of the common good of the climate

There is a close relationship between common goods (collective or public goods) and climate change; the atmosphere is a good that belongs to everyone, and at the same time it is limited, it can be exploited and really has been excessively exploited (pollution). The question is, if we know that the climate benefits all of us, why is the atmosphere polluted? Hardin (1968)[2], in a Cold war context marked by the state-market economy dichotomy, argued that rational individuals, maximizing their private advantages and socializing their costs, use up common resources, which is why they are condemned to be used up (privatized) – this is where the phrase tragedy of the commons comes from. The dilemma is that we all want a non-polluted atmoshpere, but our individual rational actions cause irrational collective results, climate change.

Olson (1965)[3] recognizes the cause of this dilemma in the free rider, the opportunist who thinks that he will receive benefits regardless of his contribution, which results in a generalized assumption. Olson suggests working in small groups and providing sanction/incentive mechanisms in order to save the commons. Ostrom[4] criticizes Hardin because of the deterministic nature of his theory (“tragedy”) blocking human progress, and on the basis of cases of communal management, finds that the commons do not disappear, that they can be well managed if there is clarity about the rules (laws), the collective methods, and if decisions are made collectively, there are local and public conflict resolution mechanisms, including sanctions on those who violate the rules, and when the self determination of communities is recognized by the authorities at the highest level. In this case there is no “tragedy”; cultures understand that the commons are environments that make sustainable and rational behavior possible (De Biase, 2014)[5].

Resolving this dilemma of collective action requires knowledge, particularly in the case that concerns us. Nevertheless here another dilemma emerges, science generates information that causes uncertainty, yet at the same time we depend on that information. Following Beck (1986)[6], we live in a society of risk (“modern society”), not just of classes (“traditional society”); our medium is an environment where knowledge, like being, determines awareness, whose formation is different to awareness previously, because the dangers are not coming from the rich and poor, but both face the same problem in this society of risk, even though with differential results – like an earthquake of the same scale has different effects in Haiti than in the United States. Science reports on the increase in temperature and suggests its control, even some express their faith that progress in technology will solve climate change; but science cannot predict the consequences of that increase because of the its degree of complexity. The paradox is that there is uncertainty about the knowledge, while at the same time we depend on it (Beck, 1986).

Both dilemmas, the collective action and the knowledge dilemma, move under structural conditions, which are ideas, interests and organizational patterns and institutions founded over centuries, that are very exclusive and generally dominated by small elites. Within this framework we formulate a number of theses: there are structures that underlie the contamination of the atmosphere and the primacy of individual rationality, which has had perverse effects; the commons (the atmosphere), following Ostrom, are not “tragedy”, but conflicts that should be analyzed as starting points from a political economy perspective; the dilemma of collective action and the uncertainty can be resolved through a knowledge produced by “epistemic communities” that would include the “civil scientists” (vulnerable families and their organizations) and “natural and social scientists”.

2. Global warming

Graph 1. Increase in temperature by 2100

increase in global temp 2100-2

Source: Conference of Parties (COP) based on the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

What does it imply? Solar energy passes through the atmosphere, part of that energy is absorbed by the earth´s surface, and another part is reflected (bounces back); part of this reflected radiation is retained by greenhouse gases (GHG), and another part returns to space. In other words, GHG are in the atmosphere, they retain part of the heat of the sun, and within a certain range, maintain a temperature appropriate for life.

The problem is when these GHG increase in the atmosphere, retain more heat and make the temperature of the earth increase. If we take the average world temperature of the preindustrial period as a reference point (see Graph 1), the temperature for 2012 rose by 0.85 degrees Celsius (known as centigrade, symbol C ) compared to the preindustrial period; if this increase continues without any change, the temperature for 2100 will increase by 4.0 0C, a situation in which it is believed that the planet will survive, but not the human race. The G-7 countries have promised zero emissions of carbon by that same year, 2100; the question could be asked whether they are sure about that, because there would be no human beings capable of emiting it. In the Paris Accords achieved in December 2015, the parties (countries) proposed new commitments to stay under a 20C increase over the preindustrial level. Nevertheless, even if the accords are fulfilled, the spending of the carbon budget will not only reach 107.3% in 2080 (see Graph 3), but a 2.7 0C increase will be reached, something recognized in the Accords themsevles: “Observes with concern that the estimated levels of the added greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the foreseen contributions determined at the national level are not compatible with the scenarios of the lower cost 2 ºC, but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatons in 2030, and also observes that, in order to maintain the increase of average world temperature under 2 ºC over preindustrial levels, through a reduction of emissions to 40 gigatons …” (chap 2, art. 17).

Graph 2

Source: based on World Resources Institute


Graph 3

Source: British meteorological office (Met Office).
Graph 3. Average Global Temperature (1850 – 2015)

We talk about a carbon budget, because the quantity of carbon to be emitted to not go beyond the 2 0C of (average) global warming has been established. Graph 2 shows how we have been spending that carbon budget, displaying the danger of the “undertow.” Between 1860 and 1965 a fourth of that budget (24.4%) was spent (emitted), spending that by the year 2000 was already half of that budget (53%), and by 2012 nearly three fourths of the budget was spent (67.1%). This is what Graph 1 shows as 0.85 0C of global warming. Then, Graph 3 provides us another important figure, that in November 2015 global warming went beyond the “ceiling” of 1 0C over preindustrial levels.

From this we see the spending of the carbon budget is happening more and more quickly, consequently the increase in global warming is also happening more quickly. The problem, according to the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change, Stockholm 26-8-2013)[7] is that when the temperature gets beyond 1.6+ y 2.0+, that temperature will remain there for hundreds of years, no matter what we do. This threshold, at the pace we are going, will be passed in a few years. By 2033 we will have spent 100% of the carbon budget, and global warming will rise 2 0C, and by the year 2100 it will have risen 4 0C. Let us remember that these data are a world average, which means that the increase of 2 0C over preindustrial levels, in tropical regions could be 3 0C or more, which will be catastrophic for life – the earth and humanity.

With a 2 0C warming it is thought that, among other consequences, parts of the world will be uninhabitable, there will be worse droughts[8] and floods, strong storms, risks that coastal areas will flood, decrease in rivers, expansion of deserts, acidification of oceans and cities affected[9], food insecurity because of the decrease in yields of harvests and because of the loss of habitat from flooding, collapse of the marine food chain, loss of biodiversity, and according to Burke et al (2015)[10], the increase in temperature will widen even more inequality gap. These are some of the foreseeable consequences, but in general, uncertainty prevails about the effects of climate change, and the accompanying risk that we under or over estimate them. In other words, averages are deceptive; understanding climate change is understanding the enormous diversity in the production of the problem, and in the fact that its effects are suffered in a differentiated manner; the diversity and inequality that it expresses clearly are not solved with charity.

3. Contamination in a historical perspective

In becoming aware of the gravity of the climate change situation (or global warming) that threatens human existence itself, we ask ourselves about how we have gotten to this point. The key is in the increase in GHG caused by human actions. This began in the XIX century with the industrial revolution, first with the European countries, and later including other countries – here we find the largest free riders in the world.

Table 1 shows the 14 countries that have emitted the most carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere in different historical periods. Between 1865 and 1890 the countries of Europe (in blue), were the countries that most polluted the atmosphere. Since 1890 the United States appears as the biggest polluting country. Then, between 1960 and 1980 four Asian countries joined the group of the biggest emitters of CO2. And between 1990 and 2012 there is a more diverse and globalized table of 14 countries that have polluted the most; China starting in 2005 takes the lead as the most polluting country.

 Table 1. Carbon dioxide emitting countries in different historical periods

Table 1

Source: based on World Resources Institute. See:

Table 1 helps to see the 14 countries that most emitted CO2 in each period. Cumulatively, Graph 4 shows the countries that have most polluted between 1850 and 2011. We see there that the United States holds first place with 27% of emissions. They are followed by 28 countries of the European Union with 25%. Then come China, Russia, Japan, India, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia,

that together emitted 31%. Finally there is the rest of the world (158 countries) with 17% of total CO2.

Graph 4 (1)

This data, nevertheless, hides the complex global interaction that exists among countries, the flows and outsourcing of pollution. For example, the countries of Europe and the United States, to reduce their gas emissions, use components of solar energy panels and wind turbines made in China[11]. Countries like England, to avoid fines from the European Union that set goals for recycling, and due to the fact that the prices of plastic and paper dropped, transfer recyclable waste to Indonesia[12]. Or countries like China, that import wood from Latin America for the construction of a large amount of homes in times of strong economic growth. Nor does the flow from large corporation appear in the data, that move to other countries to export from there the products that their countries need. In this way, countries like China and Indonesia appear to have higher CO2 emissions, while countries like England appear to have less[13].

In addition to the recognition of the production and consumption chains between different countries, a view of the use of per capita energy also influences the interpretation of the pollution list. For that purpose we focus on year 2013, and we analyze the six highest polluter countries in the world. See Table 2.

Table 2. Highest polluting countries currently (2013)

Range Countries Population (%) Total energy consumption (kilotons en %) Emissions of CO2 (kilotons in %)
1 China 19.1 21.5 24.7
2 United States 4.4 17.2 16.2
3 India 17.6 5.9 6.0
4 Russia 2.0 5.7 5.2
5 Japan 1.8 3.6 3.5
6 Germany 1.1 2.5 2.2
  Latin America 8.5 6.5 5.1
  46 62.9 62.9

Source: based on World Resource Institute

Total energy consumption is expressed in kilotons (1000 metric tons) of fuel used (related to oil, natural gas and solids like coal); and the emission of CO2 includes the burning of fossil fuels, manufacturing of cement, and the carbon dioxide produced by the consumption of natural gas and coal. From Table 2 we see that between China, United States, India and Russia they consume half of the energy generated on the planet, (50.3%), and are responsible for half of world emissions of CO2 (52.1%), but at the same time they are countries that have 43.1% of world population. The United States shows the greatest imbalance by consuming 17.2% of energy and emitting 16.2% of total CO2, when it has only 4.4% of world population, which shows conclusively that the USA as a country, and in per capita terms, is the most polluting country of all – the leader of the free riders.

We present two graphs in what follows that deal with energy consumption and per capita emission of CO2, that should be interpreted with a certain degree of care. For primary energy consumption before its transformation into final fuels (equal to national production plus imports and variation in stocks, minus exports and fuel supplied to ships and planes affected by international transportation, see Graph 5), six Arab countries are among the biggest pollutors (Qatar, Kuwait, Brunei, Bahrein, Omán and United Arab Emirates).

Graph 5

Graph 6

Source: based on the Statistical Division of the United Nations. See Graph at:


For  emissions of CO2 (see Graph 6) there are seven Arab countries (Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates Brunei, and Saudia Arabia) among the biggest polluting countries. What do both graphs tell us? First, because of the size of the countries, these Graphs do not contradict the list of the 6 most polluting countries on the planet. Secondly, the case of the Arab countries is something unique, they consume more because they are producing more fuel, and their dependency on oil reveals their real “Achilles heel”, because the solution to climate change will mean they will experience the harshness of the so called “Dutch disease.”

Pickety (2015)[14], with data on the historical tendencies of per capita CO2 emissions on the national level based on consumption, confirms that global emissions are concentrated: 10% of global emitters (from all continents) supply 45% of global emissions, and the 50% of those that emit less, supply 13% of global emissions.

Graph 7

Source: Schwabish, N. Tawil and C.ourtney Grith, 2012, Congressional Budget Office based on information from the World Bank, World Resources Institute; Resources for the Future and Climate Advisers, and LTS International. Ver:

To complement this description of pollution, we show its sources also by sector (see Graph 7). The greatest source of contamination is the production of energy (44%) that includes the use of electricity, industrial use of energy and other sources related to energy; followed by agriculture and deforestation (26%); then industrial processes and waste, and burning of fuel in homes and businesses (16%); and transportation (14%).

Graph 8

And given that agriculture interests us because of its historical importance in the world, particularly in Latin America, I include Graph 8. Of total contamination generated by agriculture, 36% comes from nitrogen oxide (N2O), 14% from CO2 and 50% from methane (CH4). Of this 100%, now looking at the Graph, the biggest contamination comes from ranching: 40% from intestinal fermentation (digestion of organic material by livestock) and 15% from manure deposited in pastures[15].

Summarizing what we have seen so far, global warming has happened because of the increase of GHG, an increase that has been mostly due to the generation of CO2 (in addition to methane and nitrogen oxide) in which the United States and Europe cumulatively have emitted 52% of CO2. Six countries have done the most contamination in absolute and relative terms. Highlighted as well are the strategies of some countries to appear as less polluting. The case of the Arab countries, with a high per capita consumption because of their production of cheap fuel, is a unique case due to being confronted with the dilemma of helping to save the planet (leaving fossil fuels underground) and their survival due to their dependency on oil. Finally, the contamination by sector shows agriculture and the forestry sector with not very high percentages -14 and 12% respectively – but they are very important sectors because: most of the impoverished part of the population is concentrated there; they are the only sectors with the potential to absorb GHG from the atmosphere; and because agriculture is a sector that can make the greatest contribution to the mitigation of climate change (Reynolds, 2013), like the forestry sector. This is ratified by the experience of Brazil, a country that reduced deforestation by 70% in the Amazon between 2005 and 2013, and with that has had a direct effect on global level emissions[16]. Without this contribution Graph 7 would be different and the spending of the carbon budget would be greater for 2012 in Graph 2. In conclusion, agriculture is another case that shows the importance of diversity, and that tells us that poverty and inequality can be solved if agriculture and forestry effectively contribute, with innovative practices and institutionality, to absorbing GHG.

4. The Paris Accords and their scope

196 members (195 countries and the European Union) arrived at a “legally binding” accord, that will be ratified in April 2016 and will take effect in 2020. The key words of the agreement are: mitigation, adaptation, financing, technology and building capacities. The principal objective of the accords is; keeping the increase of global temperature below 2 0C over preindustrial levels, “and continue striving to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 0C”. To do so, 162 countries have turned in their sheet of the route called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDC) to limit the effects of the increase in temperature, while 9 countries, among them Nicaragua, did not turn in their INDC[17], and other countries, like Bolivia, turned in their INDC on the condition of foreign financing[18]; they agreed to mobilize 100 billion dollars annually from the developed countries for the developing countries as a financing mechanism for climate change mitigation and adaptation measures[19]; and they agreed on support for research, development and demonstration of technology, and the development and improvement of endogenous capacities and technologies. The areas prioritized for the reduction of greenhouse gases are renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation, methane and agriculture, and the foresty sector.

The noise generated around the Paris Accord is one of triumphalism, but the reality appears to be bleaker. Let us remember that the issue of climate change was already discussed in the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, an event in which the treaties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), on Biological Diversity, and the Convention to Combat Desertification became known. Let us note that by 1990 we had already spent 43.4% of the carbon budget, and by 2012 we had spent 67.1%; if governments had decided to fight climate change in 1992, the situation today would be very different. Even 1.5 0C would have been achieved if there had been an agreement at the first United Nations Conference in Berlin in 1995, while now it is only “an aspiration and improbable goal” (Monbiot, 2015)[20]. 23 years after the Rio Summit and 20 years after the Berlin Conference, and after global warming doubled from what it was in 1990, implementing the Paris Accords will only make the increase in global warming happen more slowly, and that it not continue beyond 2080. Worse yet, these accords are only going to be applied starting in 2020!

Some additional thoughts. First, in fulfilling these accords, pollution will continue and the spending of that budget will reach 107.3% by 2080 (Graph 2), the year in which the situation will improve, and in the year 2200 the spending of the carbon budget will be 95.8%, a level much higher than the present level! Secondly, the Paris Accords warn that the INDCs sent in by the countries imply aggregate greenhouse gas emissions that go beyond the 2 0C and “lead to a projected level of 55 gigatons in 2030”, while the goal is 40 gigatons, “to keep the increase of average world temperature under the 2 0C” over preindustrial levels; the 55 gigatons imply a temperature increase of 2.7 0C expressed in Graph 1. Third, the euphoria of having arrived at a global agreement obscures the fact that even that 2 0C is an “average global temperature”, which would be greater in tropical countries, and that means that the Paris Accords are in their core a partial acceptance of that calamity.

These results make J. Hansen, considered the father of global awareness of climate change for being the first scientist to sound the alarm about this problem in 1988, describe the Paris Accords as a “fraud”, and a “falsehood” (Milman, 2015)[21]. Why? Hansen argues that the accords are only “promises without actions”, that until taxes (or charges) are placed on gas emissions, climate change will get worse. In a more moderate way, Monbiot (2015) says that the Paris Accord, compared to what happened in Copenhagen 2009 where no agreements were reached, and seen from the “narrow framework” of the United Nations, are “a miracle”[22]; while seen from outside that United Nations framework, from what they should be, “are a disaster”.

5. The undercurrent beneath the waves

Why is it so difficult to reach an agreement to save the planet? It is the dilemma of collective action. From the data seen, the accords depend in large measure on the fact that the 10 most polluting countries, or the companies that are behind them, would cede in their positions and overcome what Hardin called the “tragedy of the commons”; that the feeling of the countries who are not on that list, in seeing that their development path by way of industrialization will tend to be limited, where the companies and their national counterparts also have a lot of influence, likewise would cede to a perspective of diversity; and from what is observed in different parts of the world, it depends also on the growing awareness and reactive,[23] and above all proactive, social mobilization with long term thinking.

The “undercurrent beneath the waves” has to do ideas and interests. Monbiot (2015) identifies a “narrow framework” within which the discussions on climate change have taken place. Verbruggen (2015)[24] says that there is a large coalition on the climate (officials, academics, captains of industry and people in the green campaign) rooted in the belief that “there is no alternative”, and in a faith that “the only viable form is continuing the current course”, which does not seem to be appropriate in an issue like climate change, where frequent disruptions are experienced and where diverse theories, practices and technologies are needed. This “narrow framework” and “the only viable form” is the economic perspective, and that “large coalition” in reality are the technopols that Robinson (2003: 214-217)[25] has identified in each country, who are certain intellectuals who are “charismatic, organic, politicized and local organizers of groups with a transnational orientation, that play an important role distinguising local strategies, political programs, technical plans and ideologies, for integration into the new global order”. They are actors connected to one another, nationally and internationally, that penetrate the State and promote the transnational project of capitalist globalization. Verbruggen questions why economists embrace a sole global approach (the market) in climate policy, when there have been so many failures trying to impose a “uniform straight jacket”; and accuses that perspective of having paralized climate policy since 1997 in COP03, Kyoto when the United States imposed trade in emissions[26].

This perspective, motivated by countries´ economic interests, has led to the fact that the Paris Accords focus more on the consumption of fossil fuels and not on their production (Monbiot, 2015), and that they are promises easily avoided by countries. An example of this is England, a country that has a policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (reducing the demand for fossil fuels) under the 2008 Climate Change Law (coherent with the Kyoto Accords, see footnote no. 26), and another policy under the 2015 Infrastructure Law by which it urges oil and gas companies to increase their production (greater greenhouse gas emissions) to “maximize the economic recovery” of England (Monbiot, 2014)[27]; in other words, on the one hand it reduces gas emissions, and on the other it promotes the increase of their emission, and both policies are implemented under the direction of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. What is happening in England, Monbiot himself confirms, is a common practice of governments trapped by the interests of large corporations.

From the side of some developing country governments, there are criticisms of the capitalist system, but without moving outside of the “narrow framework”. Correa (2015)[28], president of Ecuador, points out that the old division of labor, countries who are producers of raw materials and countries responsible for the industrialization of those raw materials, has been replaced by another: “the rich countries generating knowledge – science, technology – that they privatize, while countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, countries of the Amazon basin, we generate environmental goods that they consume for free…”Correa points out that that knowledge is privatized through “patents” and “royalties”, and whose violation is penalized with jail time; while “there is no jail time if a multinational company destroys our nature”. This new division of labor, according to Correa, is based on “power”: “Who are the polluters, but produce knowledge that they privatize, and in exchange they consume environmental goods freely? They are the most powerful ones”; “there are courts for financial debt, there are courts to protect not the rights, but many time the abuse of the multinationals. Why are there not courts for something as fundamental as establishing the ecological debt—?” For his part, Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, in the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations, said that the countries of the south are not going to be the “forest rangers of the countries of the capitalist system.” And in the very same COP21 of Paris, the representative of Nicaragua, P. Oquist said: 1) that the agreements recognize the debt of the countries historically responsible for climate change; 2) that under the principle of responsibility, they compensate the developing countries, because the consequences of climate change are suffered more by developing countries; 3) that the goal promoted by the developing countries, particularly the island states, has been 1.5 0C and not 2 0C, and that the highest polluting countries reduce their gas emissions; and 4) that the procedure for the decision of the Accords was authoritarian and not democratic[29].

At the same time, in apparent contradiction, Correo supported oil exploitation in the Yasuni Amazon park and in other indigenous communities (Sarayaku, Kichwa, etc). The same situation is happening in the case of Bolivia, Venezuela and other countries. The discourse to the outside world does not appear to be endorsed inside the countries. This is due to three reasons. First, their environmental policies are not backed by their own resources, they are dependent on foreign resources, be they called “compensation” or “Payments for Environmental Services” (PSA), which is why they end up accepting the environmental policies governed by markets[30]. Second, the old Taylorist model of organization persists, that shaped states, political parties, unions and guerrillas, vanguard structures, which keeps them from going out and listening to the communities, and taking their perspectives seriously, that go beyond the economy and its routes, that move outside the lines defined by the modernization theory of “development”. Third, in criticizing the absence of responsibility on the part of the developed countries, and at the same time demanding compensation, they are denying the diversity in the world that they justly tend to speak about in a discursive way. As we said before, the diversity and the inequalities are not resolved with charity.

This economic logic, called by Polanyi decades earlier as the “market society”, postpones agreements and their compliance, diverts attention toward demand while it rejects leaving fuel underground, criticizes gas emissions in a country and at the same time opens the door to extractive companies. That opposition, successful since at least the Parties Conference in Berlin in 1995, allowed the Paris Accords to happen as a “consensus”. Under this logic, (economic) progress of countries has happened embedded in gas emissions; it is the idea that there is no development without industrialization; that climate change would be resolved with more economic progress (and “aid”), that it is not with less market that climate change is going to be resolved, but rather with more market. Coherent with this way of thinking, any country – better said, the corporations behind the governments – are afraid that accepting environmental regulations means losing their competitive advantages over their competitors, or, in the case of the governments of developing countries, the fear of not receiving external resources described by many of them as “compensation”, “foreign investment” (natural resource extracting corporations with greenhouse gas emissions) as a right in the face of “imperialism”. The “waves” of the Paris Accords move us “surfing” the big polluters that appear as the saviors of the planet and as the financiers of developing countries to adapt to climate change. The “undertow” is that the developing countries will be those most affected yet by the Paris Accords themselves, they will have to sacrifice the type of future (road to industrialization) that they have been seeking, emulating the developed countries; while the developed countries will follow their path of progress with GHG emissions.

More than that, the “water current” has to be captured from a historical perspective. Moore (2015)[31] refers to two myths. First myth, that the cause of climate change began with the industrialization in England in the 1800s, a myth also shared by the thinking of the environmentalist movements or the so called approach of the “green economy.” Moore argues that capitalism emerged in the XV, XVI and XVII period (1450-1750) from the biggest environmental revolution that affected natural landscapes and human beings. The most dramatic expression of that process was the conquest of America in military terms, human and environmental genocide. In other words, it was imposed with the sugar plantations, and then with the silver mines in Potosí, appropriating for free (or at low cost) the work of nature and of those considered “non-human”, indigenous and slaves. This process destroyed mountains of forests and eroded lands of the Andes area. This system continued with the extractivism and mono-cropping of sugar cane, tobacco, cotton…fuel…The pattern has been the same: getting new forms of nature that work for free and at low labor cost. From that perspective, the idea of the developed countries in Paris 2015 was expressed as a “consensus”, because “the rest” of the countries with their proposals did not count, like previously when the indigenous populations, slaves and nature were seen as parts of nature, as “the natives.”

The second myth, that the problems created by capitalism are the responsibility of all of humanity, or that climate change is the responsibility of all. Moore (2015) describes this myth as coming “from a racist, Eurocentric and patriarchal vision.” There are historical responsibilities in the face of climate change, injustice that is hidden by the Paris Accords. It is not so much about “compensation”, as about getting the capitalist system to quit feeding itself from what nature produces, cheap labor, cheap energy, food and raw materials, quit persisting based on human and environmental genocide. At this point the biggest danger is that the Paris Accords become a door to dispossession, commercializing nature, in a context where the opportunities for appropriating the free work of forests, oceans, the climate and soils are less and less available.

So in line with Moore (2015), looking at the reality without separating the economic from the ecological, as the history of the emergence of capitalism shows, and as we see in the dry zones in Central and South America, opens up new windows for understanding the reality, combining climate change and race and gender inequality. This step, in turn, will allow us to form new alliances among producer organizations, feminist organizations, worker and student organizations.

6. Challenges

Before continuing, let us recapitulate what has been worked on so far in the light of the proposed theoretical framework. The climate is a collective good, whose “over-exploitation” is due to the opportunism (free riding) of mostly large corporations and developed countries who have polluted the atmosphere. This fact has been sustained not only for 200 years (industrial revolution), but for more than 500 years under the emergence and establishment of the capitalist system on the basis of cheap labor from nature and most of the world´s population, which has also led to the institutionalization of a exclusive organizational pattern. These structures have been expressed in ideas based on market fundamentalism, in the belief that there is no alternative, and with “undertow” effects.

This perspective has generated a pessimistic and conservative thesis, that the causes of the problem will be difficult to change, and that there is no greater human effort capable of making them change; it is pessimistic in the sense that, if it ends up true, the planet will become less inhabitable in the second half of the current century. And it is conservative in so far as it generates impotence, that there is not much to do, that the problem is so complex that we do not know what to do.

Nevertheless, distinguishing the structural factors, supported by a historical perspective, allows envisioning a more optimistic thesis for institutional change, a new and more transformational correlation of forces. This is a “society in movement” with global awareness – for pressuring, and also with decisions about, for example, reducing their consumption of meat, milk and energy – to understand the social, economic and ecological reality as parts of the same process, connected to the families of small producers (peasants and indigenous) with intelligent sustainable practices in the efficient use of soil and forestry, with the relaunching of a business sector around new technologies for change in the energy matrix, with scientists committed to making renewable energies be cheaper than energy coming from coal, gas and oil[32], and with governments that promote appropriate fiscal regulations to incentivize renewable energy and – following Pickety (2015)– applying taxes on the richest in the developed countries as well as the developing countries, overcoming the traditional north-south dualism. This correlation of forces could make the old and dominant correlation of forces led by corporations to step back, and would be a window of possibilities for social, political, economic and ecological transformation of our societies and its institutions on this planet earth.

Under this framework, we list three challenges in what follows. The first challenge is providing solutions that make the Paris Accords possible with a perspective that in the long term would allow fuel to stay underground. It is clear that it has taken a lot of time to reach these accords, the current goals are insufficient to save the planet, and the way that they propose to reduce CO2 is with a productivist and “green economy” vision. To introduce policies and decisions that would make the Paris Accords possible, it is important to understand the economic crisis, the social crisis and the ecological crisis as the crisis of capitalism; in doing so, replacing the economic fundamentalism in which we are trapped by a more holistic perspective of life. Without getting out of this trap, even solutions like clean energy (solar, geothermal, wind and others) will not prosper; likewise the critical perspectives of the member governments of ALBA countries, that with or without their own resources, continue without moving beyond economic fundamentalism.

The second challenge is preventing capitalism from using the Paris Accords as an open door to accumulate more based on its historical practice of appropriating nature and cheap labor. Part of that reality we have seen in the policies on protected areas in Latin America, as well as in many cases of titling indigenous territories, that have worked to dispossess the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations and peasant families of their lands[33]. And part of that modality is giving crumbs to the developing countries as a license to continue generating GHG, crumbs that are tied to mechanisms of “management by results”[34] out of an individualistic logic (e.g. given to the individual producer for planting trees on his farm), and eroding organizational expressions (cooperatives, associations and communal organizations) that especially rural societies have for resisting the dispossession mechanisms of large enterprises that are always ready to buy their land. This is a form of dispossession that is unfavorable not only to the developing countries, but to 80% of the world population that only has access to 17.2% of world income[35].

The third challenge is overcoming the nature/society dualism of the very actors historically considered “natural”, the peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendent families. The issue of climate change tends to appear as something very complex that leaves people with a sense of impotency, making them feel that human actions for change are so small in the face of something as large as climate change; and that ideological and slanted “campaign” on climate change has made indigenous and peasant families tend to “blame themselves” for climate change, something contrary to what is indicated in Graph 7[36]. That degree of complexity and insecurity that climate change generates, combined with self blame on the part of the peasant famiilies, can be counterproductive. Confronting this situation requires that we get beyond the idea that development can only be achieved by way of industrialization, showing that the peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendent way, a path of centuries of resistance to capitalism, in alliance with different actors, can mitigate climate change, and within it, the role for agriculture and forestry for absorbing GHG, mentioned previously, make the world see the importance of this peasant and indigenous social sector.

7. The Perspective of the peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendent families

How can we take up the challenges and mitigate climate change? The diversification strategies of these families, with their different variations (see Mendoza, 2004[37]), opposed to the mono-cropping system and extractivism, and including family and territorial organization with an emphasis on life connected to the land, are differentiating angles and practices for mitigating climate change.

From this perspective of diversity, territories, diversification, organization and connection to the land, and opposed to the technopols identified by Robinson (2003), we propose the construction of a “epistemic community” that, in the words of Marchetti (2015: 20), is an “continuous and more profound encounter of different ways of knowing, crossing over educational and geographical aspects, abandoning external prescriptions, the external canon of science and even the external canon of politics on climate-energy, and taking responsibility to formulate and adjust policies every year in different geographies and epistemic communities”. How can these epistemic communities be constructed? We respond to this question out of our involvement in work with rural organizations. First, leaders of peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendent organizations would organize their knowledge in a systematic and ongoing way, and do it in alliance with intellectuals of the south and the north; building a long term capacity that would expand, correct, generate and catalyze knowledge, leaving behind oral tradition and only being reactive movements in response to the extractivism and monocropping. The solutions for making the Paris Accords possible would come from this type of processes that develop long term capacities.

Second, their own capacity can be combined with experimentation and innovation processes of paths with different perspectives, and to the extent that their organizations consolidate based fundamentally on their own resources, and on resources generated by carbon capture. The PSA initiatives should be read in the light of this endogenous capacity, the practices of diversification, the logic of the territories where the population is taking care of the land, and the grassroots organizations that are expanding their management capacities of common goods. It is a matter of the families and populations being able to see climate change from their own lives, organizations and communities, mitigating climate change, instead of seeing themselves as minuscule beings in the face of “complex” and “uncertain” climate change, as isolated individuals enmeshed in abstract markets.

Third, with this capacity of producing knowledge and innovating forms of climate change mitigation as a different way of life, implying personal changes and organizational renovation, the peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendent families need to reconquer land areas, deepening their relationship with the land, expanding their territories as “the place of those who take care of the land”[38] under the premise that ecological, social and economic equity are inseparable, and that therefore gender, ethnic and generational inequality are parts of environmental degradation. Within this process, the state and organizational policies to mitigate climate change should respond to this perspective with crop rotation, diversification, the rollback of the mono-cropping system and extractivism, and social and economic equity. In this way that coordination of practices and policies will be the basis so that the Paris Accords are carried out and deepened to achieve a global warming goal of less than 1.5 0C, innovative ecological, social and economic practices are promoted, poverty and inequality are reduced, which is coherent with the Sustainable Development Objectives, not leaving even one poor person behind by 2030.

In conclusion, the poem quoted at the beginning of the text is from the Sàmi indigenous people, located in Norway, Switzerland, Finland and Russia, a people who are fighting to have their lands recognized. They remind us that even though we speak the language of the earth, that the key is connecting to the earth again and learning to relate to her. J. Laiti of the Sámi people states that recognizing that we belong to one another leads us to love life, use nature as the source of life, and convince ourselves that we live in – and we are made of – the earth[39]. This change of relationship with nature is possible if there are personal changes and organization renovation, as Pope Francis reminds us in his Encyclical Laudato Sí: “there will not be a new relationship with nature without a new human being.” And with these two steps, to take the third, following the African Proverb, “if you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go accompanied.” In the face of the systematic harassment of corporations (market), the construction of epistemic communities with peasant families and indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples, groups that haver persisted this harassment for centuries, now developing their capacities for organizing and producing their knowledge and innovations, a process accompanied by a framework of global alliances, and by ongoing personal change, can really make a difference in mitigating climate change. This can get the best of the “undertow”. This is moving far ahead.

* René Mendoza ( has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (WPF) (, associate researcher of IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium).

[1] This work has benefitted from the comments and suggestions of P. Marchetti, F. Huybrechs, G. Delmelle, K. Kuhnekath, D. Kaimowitz, J. Bastiaensen and T. De Herdt, as well as the reflections expressed in a workshop with leaders of rural organizations (cooperatives and associations), and representatives of organizations both inside and outside the country.

[2] Hardin, G., 1968, “the tragedy of the commons”, en: Science Vol. 162, No. 3859, pp. 1243-1248

[3] Olson, M., 1965, The Logic of the Collective Action. USA: Harvard University Press.

[4] Ostrom, E., 1990, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[5] De Biase, L, 2014, 2014, “what scientific idea is ready for retirement?” en: Edge,

[6] Beck, U., 1986, La Sociedad del riesgo. Hacia una modernidad. Barcelona: Editorial Paidos

[7] This data we are taking from Marchetti, P.E., 2015, No Recipes for Planetary Crisis: Epistemic Communities and Climate/Energy Policy Architectures. Mimeo: Guatemala: URL

[8] For example, the second largest lake in Bolivia, Lake Poopó 2,337 km2 i in size, dried up in 2015 due to various causes, among them the El Niño phenomenon, pollution from mining and the diversion of rivers by producers on the Peruvian side using irrigation systems. See: Another example is the drought in California (United States) between 2012 and 2014, considered the worst drought in 1200 years, see:

[9] The following scientific study talks about the fact that sea levels could rise more than 5 meters and affect cities like London, Miami, Shanghai and New York. Hansen, J., Sato, M., Hearty, P., Ruedy, R., Kelley, M., Masson-Delmotte, V., Russell, G., Tselioudis, G., Cao, J., Rignot, E., Velicogna, I., Kandiano, E., von Schuckmann, K., Kharecha, P., Legrande, A.N., Bauer, M., y Lo, K. W., 2015, “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 _C global warming is highly dangerous” en: Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 15.

[10] Burke, M., Hsiang, M.S. and Miguel, E., 2015, “Global non-linear effect of temperature on economic production” in: Nature 527, Macmillan Publishers Limited

[11] See:

[12] See:

[13] Within this context, the notion of “unequal ecological exchange” shows that the developed countries outsource their consumption costs to developing countries, intensifying their environmental degradation. See: Jorgenson, A.K., 2006, “Unequal Exchange and Environmental Degradation A Theoretical Proposition and Cross-National Study of Deforestation” in: Rural Sociology 71.4

[14] Pickety, Th., 2015, Carbon and inequality: from Kyoto to Paris. Parish school of economics.

[15] Also see: Reynolds, L., 2013, Agriculture and Livestock Remain Major Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emission en: Worldwatch Institute.

[16] In 2004 President Lula Da Silva promised a deforestation reduction policy of 80%. Nepstad et al (2014) gives an accounting of it, that between 2005 and 2013 the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon decreased by 70%, which prevented the emission into the atmosphere of 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, and that in 2013 represented a reduction of 1.5% in global emissions. See: Nepstad, D., et al, 2014, “Slowing Amazon deforestation through public policy and interventions in beef and soy supply chains” in: Science Vol. 344, No. 6188 See also: the economist:

[17] P. Oquist (see: justified the fact that Nicaragua had not turned it in: that the United Nations, in terms of climate change, does not have objective verification mechanisms for the expression of the individual will of the different countries; and because Nicaragua has low emissions and in addition is reducing it – in 2014 it only emitted 0.03% of gases, and that because of the increase in renewable energy (from 25 to 52%) the country saved 2.1 million tons of CO2, with which total gas emissions dropped to 4.8 million tons.

[18] See:

[19] This financing had already beeen approved in 2011 as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), as a financing mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). See: The Paris Accord ratified this agreement.

[20] Monbiot, G., 2015, “Grand promises of Paris climate deal undermined by squalid retrenchments” in: The Guardian, December 12, 2015.

[21] Milman, O., 2012, “James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks ‘a fraud’” in: The Guardian December 12 2015.

[22] To read the chronology on climate change, see: For a historical review of the “wave” (Paris Accords) and particularly the day to day of the Paris negotiations, see: Campos, V., 2016, “The Paris climate agreement is patently insufficient” in: Envio 415.

[23] Many protests and struggles in every country in the world. For a sample, see summary from the Avaaz movement and run for your life with Jenni Laiti:

[24] Verbruggen, A., 2015, Self-governance in global climate policy: An essay. University of Antwerp.

[25] Robinson, w., 2003, Transnational conflicts. Central America, Social change, and Globalization. London: Verso

[26] The 1997 Kyoto protocol legally linked the developed countries to the emission reduction objectives. It set goals for greenhouse gas reductions of 5%. The commitment period was 2008-2012, and 2013-2020. Only 37 countries (28 in Europe) signed this accord. The US Congress did not ratify it, and countries like China, one of the countries with the most emissions, were left out. By 2015 the 37 signature countries were able to reduce emissions by 22%.

[27] Monbiot, G., 2014, “The UK is making it a legal duty to maximise greenhouse gas emissions” in: The Guardian June 26, 2014.

[28] Correa, R., 2015, “Por el hermano viento, por el aire, la nube, el cielo sereno y todo tiempo” in: Correos 7.42 Nicaragua: Instituto de comunicación Social.

[29] See: For more reading on the proposal of the Government of Nicaragua published before the Paris Summit, see: Oquist, P., 2015, “La posición de Nicaragua” in: Correos 7.42. Nicaragua: Instituto de comunicación Social.

[30] Van Hecken, G., Bastiaensen, J. y Huybrechs, F., 2015 (“What’s in a name? Epistemic perspectives and Payments for Ecosystem Services policies in Nicaragua” in: Geoforum 63) discuss “epistemic circulation” to explain how the member countries of ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative) deal with conservationist environmental policies and then end up joining it. The authors observe in the case of Nicaragua how, in spite of the critical perspective of the government on the payment for environmental services (PSA), most of the PSA projects in the country have been carried out responding to the dominant perspective of being governed by the market.

[31] Moore, J. W., 2015, capitalism in the Web of life, United States: VersoBook.

[32] 7 scientísts and economists from England have proposed an Apollo type research program for the purpose of doing research that in 10 years would produce renewable and clean energy cheaper and free from CO2 emissions. This energy would be based on 3 pillars: renewable (especially solar and wind), nuclear power and “carbon capture”. They do it under the idea that by 2025 we would ensure that global warming be under 2 0C, otherwise they think that climate change will be catastrophic. See: D. King, J. Browne, R. Layard, G. O’Donnell,


[33] The dispossession is done not just by the extractive companies and monocropping enterprises, but also the institutions that started as alternatives. For example, many microfinance institutions present their portfolios as “green loans”, which by financing extensive livestock raising, instead contribute to this dispossession of land and territories; these same microfinance organizations do not give loans to indigenous populations nor to peasant families that are diversifying their production, and that are located in protected areas and indigenous territories, or cooperatives that have forest areas and that are prevented from touching even one tree.

[34] For a critical perspective, see: Chambers, R., 2014, “Perverse Payment by Results: frogs in a pot and straitjackets for obstacle courses” in: IDS, Sussex University.

[35] Data for 2007 taken from: Ortíz, I. and Cummins, M., 2011, Global Inequality:Beyond the Bottom Billion… New York: UNICEF. See:

[36] In a workshop with female and male leaders of rural organizations (January 2016), and representatives of academic and business institutions, the perspective of both groups was expressed differently.The first group, of the leaders, blamed themselves for climate change, attributing the causes to the “bad production practices”, “burning and cutting down trees”, “use of chemicals in agriculture”, and “the lack of education in families”, while the second group attributed the causes to “short term thinking”, “Companies” and “dependency on oil.”

[37] Mendoza, R., 2004, “Through the Looking Glass: Images of the Agricultural Frontier” in: Envio 273. Managua: IHCA-UCA.

[38] This phrase from women of the Afro-descendent community of La Toma del Cauca (Colombia), was picked up by Escobar (2016), “Desde abajo, por la izquierda y con la Tierra” in: Contrapuntos, Serie Desafíos Latinoamericano 7.

[39] See interview of Jenni Laiti in: