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Mar 26

Climate Change and Its Impact on Coffee Production

People who trivialise climate change and believe it won’t have an impact on their comfortable western lifestyle may be in for a shock – global warming is having a very palpable effect on the cost and quality of coffee.

Consumers all over the world, who benefit from the 2 billion cups of coffee made available to them, may be taking their beloved hot beverage for granted. Rising heat levels, extreme weather and relentless robust pests are causing the highland coffee bean to run out of the cool mountainous terrain that it loves so much. Coffee crops are being threatened in almost every major coffee growing region on the planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that a temperature rise of 3C in Brazil (the world’s biggest coffee producer) would reduce the areas suitable for coffee production by two-thirds in Brazil’s two main coffee growing states (Minas Gerais and São Paulo) and will be totally eliminated in the others. Growing coffee will remain possible in states further south, but will not compensate for the losses in the north.

It is also becoming apparent that the ever increasing tumultuous weather conditions associated with climate change will negatively affect coffee production in the long term. Long periods of drought, extreme rainfall and plants acquiring diseases will cause coffee prices to increase exponentially.

The dangers to coffee come from the highlands of east Africa, where the stable and cool climate allows the coffee berries to thrive. If the temperature gets to high the metabolism of the plant increases rapidly, causing fewer yields as well as disrupting the right mix of aromatic volatile compounds that produce the distinctive coffee taste.

Different coffee varieties adapt over time to specific climate zones and a slight change in temperature can have a huge impact on production. Extreme and unseasonal rainfall have caused coffee growers to yield fewer crops which is threatening their livelihoods. Between the year 2002 and 2011 coffee production in India declined by around 30 percent.

Global warming has also expanded the habitat of coffee rust and the coffee berry borer. One is a devastating fungus, the other a grazing predator which previously did not survive the cool mountainous weather, placing additional stresses on all coffee crops. Three of the top fifteen coffee-producing nations of the world; Costa Rica, India, and Ethiopia have especially been affected by these relentless pests and suffered a dramatic decline in yields.

As the supply of Central and Eastern African coffee beans are declining, supermarkets and high-street cafes are also feeling the effects. Due to tight supply and higher wholesale prices – brands such as Folgers, Maxwell House and Yuban increased their retail prices by up to 25% in 2011 on certain grinds.

Tackling climate change is no easy feat, but there are technologies and methods available to reduce the impact global warming is having. Experts have suggested that global warming emissions could be reduced by 80 percent by 2050.

Large coffee manufacturers are opting to move to areas with a higher altitude to grow their crops. The use of irrigation is also being increased, but is challenging due to the lack of water available. Fighting against coffee rust is also achievable. For areas badly affected, it is necessary for farmers to plant new coffee trees and start again. In Columbia, rust resistant trees have been developed, that mitigates against the spread of rust in fungicide.  The Columbian Coffee Federation plan to replace 80-90% of the trees with rust resistant trees by 2016.

Unfortunately these trees will only be available to large coffee manufacturers and not small family-run farmers who lack the finance and knowledge to adapt. A charity called ‘The Coffee and Climate initiative’ has been set-up to help small vulnerable farmers respond to threats such as climate change by getting them to take part in hands-on training activities and assisting them to find strategies which suit their needs based on scientific discoveries and best practices.

As well as global efforts to reduce global warming emissions, research shows that agroforestry can be used to mitigate against climate change and help increase the incomes of small coffee farmers. Actions like this with proven success should be replicated to benefit farmers in the tropics who suffer from the effects of climate change.

 

My name is Edward Martin. I am a sales and marketing officer at Inn Supplies, writing about all things green and eco in the business world. Inn Supplies is an environmentally conscious catering supplies company.

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