Coffee is severely threatened by climate change
Don't take your morning cup of coffee for granted. It may not be around in a few decades, according to a new report.
Coffee is one of the world’s most beloved beverages, but it may not be around much longer. According to a new report released by Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, coffee is severely threatened by climate change, and the amount of land suitable for coffee production could decrease by 50 percent as soon as 2050.
While the report contains little new research, it pulls together recent studies, research, and graphics on coffee production and climate change into a single document, outlining a situation that looks very dire for coffee producers and drinkers alike.
Arabica coffee beans, the preferred type, do best at moderate tropical temperatures of 18-21°C (64-70°F). Robusta, the other most common variety, is more resistant to temperature but of lower quality. All coffee grows in the so-called “Bean Belt,” which wraps around the circumference of the planet and comprises 70 countries, including Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Central American nations. Coffee is the second most valuable commodity exported by developing nations, so any decrease in exports would be a huge economic blow, not to mention a loss of important jobs among many of the world’s poorest laborers and farmers.
A Brewing Storm report/Screen capture
Already climate change is causing trouble for coffee farmers. With warmer, wetter weather overall, growers are experiencing infestations such as coffee leaf rust and the berry borer in high-altitude locations that used to be unsuitable to such pests. Hot spells and cold snaps are killing crops; the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais lost one-third of its yield in 2014 due to drought. From the report:
“Even half a degree at the wrong time can make a big difference in coffee yield, flavour, and aroma. Around the Bean Belt, rising minimum growing temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and rising pest and disease incidence, are already making life harder for coffee farmers.”
Some countries will become unsuitable for coffee production altogether, such as Mexico, which is projected to be unviable by the 2020s. The report says that most of Nicaragua will lose its coffee zone by 2050, and Tanzanian Arabica will reach critically low levels by the 2060s. There are regions that could benefit from the changing climate by becoming coffee growers, such as the highlands of East Africa, Indonesia, Papua-New Guinea, and the Andes, but these would still be affected by more extreme and unpredictable weather. Additional expansion would result, too, in the destruction of more forests to make way for new plantations.
© K Martinko -- A smallholder coffee plantation in the hills outside San Pedro Sula, Honduras
The New York Times cites Doug Welsh, vice-president at Peet’s Coffee and a board member at World Coffee Research:
“[Climate change] is a severe threat. It’s anecdotal, but I don’t know any coffee farmers who don’t believe that their weather, and with it their disease and productivity issues, have changed dramatically over the last decade.”
As the Fairtrade report points out, most of the world’s 25 million coffee workers are poor, uneducated, disorganized, and slow to implement best practices on their small farms. They live in economic situations that are already dangerously fragile, with an oversaturated market with highly volatile prices. All of this means that they have little capacity to build resilience.
“Coffee labourers in tropical countries are among those most exposed to heat strain and heat stroke – a situation certain to worsen… Warmer, moister conditions also favour the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria. Drought, on the other [hand], is associated with a deep and disturbing sense of failure, loss, powerlessness, heightened anxiety, stress, depression, and an increased suicide rate among farmers.”
© K Martinko -- A coffee grower's humble home near San Pedro Sula, Honduras
What’s a coffee lover to do?
Learn what the issues are facing coffee growers worldwide. (Read the full report here.) Be sure to buy coffee that has been fairly traded (some companies offer carbon-neutral, too), because then you know that the workers are receiving a fair return for their work and are part of an organization that supports them and will help them to implement strategies for climate change resistance.