Safeguarding coffee and cocoa from the climate crisis

Imagine waking up to a world without your morning cup of coffee or being able to enjoy your favorite chocolate. Unthinkable, right? But climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers who grow these everyday ingredients.


That's where HEARTH (Health, Ecosystems, and Agriculture for Resilient, Thriving Societies) comes in. It is a collaborative public-private partnership approach to sustainable development in biodiverse landscapes initiated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).


Together, USAID, olam food ingredients (ofi), and partners have invested approximately $50 million across six cocoa and coffee projects worldwide, including four HEARTH partnerships. We aim to equip farmers with the right tools and training to transition to more environmentally friendly techniques without sacrificing their livelihoods. There are three key ingredients at the core of HEARTH’s approach to climate action:

1. Empowering farmers to decarbonize

Agroforestry, a land management practice that involves planting additional trees alongside cocoa and coffee, offers both shade and carbon capture benefits. That means farmers are learning to lower carbon emissions while boosting productivity through our projects.


For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we have helped farmers grow 65,000 shade tree seedlings in local nurseries and trained them to manage and maintain the trees once planted. This is part of an integrated approach to support the coffee-growing communities of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park area to prevent deforestation and poaching in one of the world's largest forests.


While not part of the HEARTH program, the work in Chiapas, Mexico, provides a good example of how a landscape approach can reduce carbon in the supply chain. In this area, where the livelihoods of 100,000 families depend on coffee production, we are showing farmers how soil and leaf analysis of coffee crops can help cut carbon emissions from chemical fertilizers and pest control and boost productivity.


And in West Africa, specifically in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, we are working with 15,000 cocoa farmers to give communities a voice and ownership of managing three priority landscapes for conservation by setting up Land Management Boards. 

2. Tailored support for women

Women can be catalysts for more sustainable communities and healthier families, but many face barriers like culturally ingrained gender roles or a lack of training. We're addressing these issues in Papua New Guinea with our partners via a pilot project to support over 500 female farmers to diversify their incomes by learning new skills like vegetable gardening and sewing clothes. A specialized NGO, Femili PNG, has also engaged with local men on gender inequalities and gender-based violence.

We cannot ask farmers to switch to more sustainable practices if it means a hit to their incomes. They need the right inputs and technical know-how to professionalize their farms in a way that works for them and the surrounding landscape.


Building on the success of other HEARTH projects, we are improving access to training and digital tools to enable a fair and transparent sourcing process for 1,000 farmers in Peru – while helping them grow specialty-grade coffee, including organic, which commands a higher price. 


And, launching later this year in Indonesia, we will support 6,500 cocoa and coffee farmers to improve their yields by 25% while conserving 14,000 hectares of the watershed and riparian buffers by the end of 2025.

HEARTH’s holistic approach supports communities in sustainable cocoa and coffee production landscapes that depend on these crops for their livelihood to reduce emissions and protect biodiversity. And as part of the Aim for Climate (AIM4C) initiative launched by the United States and United Arab Emirates governments at COP26, where the West Africa HEARTH AIM for Climate Innovation Sprint was announced, many of these projects play a crucial role in raising global ambition and driving more rapid and transformative climate action in all countries, to benefit people and the planet.


So, the next time we sip our morning coffee or indulge in a piece of chocolate, we can remember that it is not only about satisfying our taste buds but also supporting a sustainable future for farmers and our planet.

Rob Cohen is a Senior Data Scientist in USAID’s Bureau for Global Health, and Co-Coordinator of USAID’s HEARTH Mechanism, as an Institutional Support Contractor with the Public Health Institute.

Rob Cohen |

 Senior Data Scientist