How is Climate Change Affecting Poverty Around the World?

How does climate change exacerbate poverty? And what role do small-scale farmers play in the fight against climate change? Learn about the link between these critical issues, then find out what TechnoServe is doing to support those most affected.

Two men stand in a field in Uganda. Part of a blog post discussing the link between poverty and climate change.

When we think about the significant challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, two issues loom large: climate change and poverty. At first glance, they may seem like separate crises. But upon closer examination, it becomes clear that climate change and poverty are inextricably linked. 

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts disproportionately harm the world’s poorest people, who are often the least to blame for the climate crisis. At the same time, a lack of resources leaves these communities least able to adapt.  

Studies suggest that climate change could push up to 130 million people into poverty over the next 10 years and could displace over 200 million people within their own countries by 2050. 

How Climate Change Exacerbates Poverty

The devastating effects of climate change include rising sea levels, increased droughts, and more frequent and powerful storms. These impacts hit low-income countries that already lack infrastructure, resources, and social safety nets the hardest. A single hurricane, drought, or deadly heatwave can wipe out homes, ruin already-meager crops, disrupt transportation, and drain savings. Decades of slow progress out of poverty can be quickly undone. 

Other impacts happen more slowly over time, such as changing crop suitability. For example, coffee production is increasingly threatened by increased pests and diseases, which thrive due to higher temperatures. Increasing temperatures also mean coffee varieties that were highly productive or high quality on a producer’s land may now be better suited for higher altitudes. As a result, farmers need access to the knowledge and resources to switch to new technologies, practices, coffee varieties, or other crops. 

A coffee farm in Puerto Rico five years after Hurricane Maria. Photo: (TechnoServe / Ashley Thompson)
A coffee farm in Puerto Rico five years after Hurricane Maria. Photo: (TechnoServe / Ashley Thompson)

Coffee in Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, a series of devastating hurricanes, including Hurricane Maria, led to a significant decline in coffee production. The island lost an estimated 80% of its coffee trees in 2017, decimating an entire industry and forcing many coffee farmers to abandon their farms in search of other economic opportunities.

Beginning in 2018, TechnoServe worked to revive the coffee industry in Puerto Rico through the Revivamos Nuestro Café program, a partnership between TechnoServe, Nespresso, the Hispanic Federation, and the Colibri Foundation.

Through the program, farmers like Elisa Alicea Sanchez and Javier Hernandez Velez received training on good agricultural practices, including composting, pest and disease management, and erosion control. With these improved techniques, farmers can increase their resilience to climate threats and enhance their coffee quality and yields.

“For years, farmers [in Puerto Rico] have been very negative and lost hope because of earthquakes, hurricanes, the pandemic…you name it,” Elisa said. “TechnoServe reached our farm and worked hand-in-hand with us. More than that, they added a human touch to it, treated us like family, and gave us a sense of hope.” 

Smallholder Farmers are Key Stakeholders in the Fight Against Climate Change

Farmers’ livelihoods depend on adapting to climate change, and they are also key stakeholders in the fight against it. Small-scale farmers represent 500 million households and manage 10% of the world’s agricultural land. As climate change impacts their incomes and food supply, they are often incentivized to use practices that can decrease their long-term productivity and ultimately worsen climate change and nature loss. 

TechnoServe works with smallholder farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to implement regenerative agricultural practices that are adapted to the changing climate and regenerate rather than degrade farmland for long-lasting production. While specific recommendations vary based on geography and local context, typical examples of practices include: 

  • Crop diversification: Growing diverse crops can improve soil health, increase resilience to pests and diseases, and provide a buffer against climate variability.
  • Agroforestry: Integrating trees and shrubs into crop and livestock production systems can increase biodiversity, improve soil fertility, provide additional income sources for farmers, and create shade to reduce heat stress on crops and animals.
  • Soil conservation practices: This approach includes minimal soil disturbance (no-till or reduced tillage), permanent soil cover (with crop residues or cover crops), and crop rotation. These practices help improve soil structure, conserve moisture, and reduce erosion.

Addressing Critical Challenges for a Brighter Future

Addressing climate change and poverty alleviation simultaneously is a significant global priority and a necessity. Given how interlinked these issues are, integrated and immediate action is required. These are just a few methods that can help:

  1. Support regenerative agriculture. Farmers need support to implement regenerative practices on their farms. Methods like drought-resistant crops, efficient irrigation, agroforestry, and minimal tillage can boost yields and incomes for smallholder farmers while reducing emissions and building resilience to climate impacts.
  2. Enable green entrepreneurship. Giving entrepreneurs the training and financing they need to develop more sustainable business models can create jobs and economic opportunities aligned with climate goals.
  3. Promote sustainable livelihoods. Concentrating on efforts around sustainable forestry, fisheries management, and ecotourism can preserve ecosystems while providing income opportunities tied to natural capital.
  4. Prioritize inclusivity. Ensuring women, youth, indigenous peoples, and local communities can participate in and benefit from climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts is essential to building a more equitable and sustainable world. 

Climate change and poverty are inextricably linked global crises that must be tackled together. The effects of climate change, like rising sea levels, droughts, and storms, hit impoverished communities the hardest, undoing progress out of poverty. Breaking this vicious cycle requires integrated approaches that tackle poverty alleviation and climate action.