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Coffee, Catholics and Climate Change in Colombia

Camila DeChalus filming a Colombian farmer.
Camila DeChalus, left, is a Pulitzer Center Fellow focusing on the strategies and adaptations Colombian coffee farmers are exploring in the face of climate change

Recent American University School of Communication (AU SOC) graduate Camila DeChalus has completed an impressive multimedia package developed through original reporting and investigative work in Colombia, with Professor Bill Gentile by her side. “Coffee, Catholics and Climate Change,” the resulting work of DeChalus’ Pulitzer Center fellowship is an investigation on how rural Colombian coffee farmers are impacted by climate change.

DeChalus reports that 40,000 families, around 240,000 people, rely on coffee production to subsist in Narino province, but with climate change, the land they currently use for coffee production is becoming unsuitable for the crop. Catholic Relief Services is working with 1,600 families in Narino and DeChalus’ investigative work shows how these families are experimenting with new techniques to sustain the coffee crop in spite of changes in climate and are learning to diversify their crops.

DeChalus, along with Professor Gentile, spent hours speaking with and interviewing families who have farmed coffee for generations, and who hope to pass down the work to their families. They focused on Fidel Melo, a coffee farmer, who helps explain how a lack of rain and higher temperatures has led to new parasites on the coffee plants, meaning smaller crops, and less production – leading to less money to survive. 

Professor Gentile’s guidance helped DeChalus’ focus on Melo, the farmer, explaining, “The idea is that the most effective stories are those told through the prism of one person’s experience… We believe we found that character when we met Fidel.”

“Coffee, Catholics and Climate Change,” is the culmination of Dechalus’ hard work reporting, researching and writing using the skills she learned from Professor Gentile and her time at AU SOC.

DeChalus currently works as a news associate for CNN, based in Washington. Her job involves working with producers and anchors on teleprompter research, and logging and transcribing interviews. She hopes to become a breaking news reporter on national and international stories.

The Pulitzer Fellowship application for 2017 is now available and open to any AU student looking to investigate an underreported systemic issue. The application can be found on the Pulitzer Center website, or through SOC Professor Bill Gentile.