How Does Climate Change Affect Coffee?
Climate change is having a drastic effect on everything – there is no denying it. With sea levels rising and storms intensifying, there are many things at stake if the climate crisis is not averted, and coffee is one of the many victims. The vast majority of the coffee in the world is produced on the Bean Belt, a narrow strip around the equator that offers the perfect conditions for these fickle plants to grow. Yet this land is under threat, with research from Climate Care revealing that by 2050, around 50 percent of currently viable coffee-growing land will no longer be suited to growing the beans. We take a look at how climate change will affect the coffee industry.
Coffee production requires quite specific climate conditions. To get a good coffee harvest, farmers will rely on cycles of rainfall, dry periods and heat. The coffee plant typically needs three months of dry weather, followed by rainfall in order to produce the flowers that will turn into berries. Therefore, if there is more or less rain, then the number of flowers that develop will be reduced, which will negatively affect the quality and quantity of coffee produced.
Changes in climate conditions are wreaking havoc on coffee crops already, massively reducing crop yields. This can go both ways, with overly dry, drought conditions which cannot sustain growth, as well as overly humid conditions, which encourage pests and diseases that can destroy coffee plants. This is already an issue, with 91 percent of Colombian coffee producers studied reporting a change in the flowering and fruiting cycle of their coffee plants. In addition, 75 percent reported an increase in pests and 59 percent noted a rise in crop disease.
Research from 2014 revealed that $250 million worth of coffee was lost from Central America alone that year, following hot temperatures and heavy rainfall that caused an outbreak of leaf rust fungus. In Brazil, yields were way down, following severe droughts that only saw 10 percent of the typical rainfall seen in some areas.
It is inevitable that around 40 percent of coffee land for Arabica beans will be lost by 2050 due to climate change, even if we dramatically slash our emissions. However, if we do not reduce our carbon emissions and halt global warming, then this is set to increase to almost 60 percent loss of coffee land.
Coffee is the world’s most consumed beverage, and its popularity continues to rise. Climate change has already had a negative effect on coffee crop yields, so this drop in available coffee beans, but rise in demand, is going to see coffee prices shoot up. It is likely that this problem will continue to get worse, so coffee could become very expensive if the industry doesn’t make changes.
Coffee Farmer’s Lives
This coffee crisis goes beyond whether or not you’ll get your morning cuppa. There are currently around 25 million coffee growers around the world who depend on this industry, so with drastically less farming land available, their livelihoods are at great risk. To prepare for the inevitable changes in the environment, some organisations are helping coffee farming communities to adapt, although this ultimately won’t do anything to stop climate change occurring.
Around 70 percent of coffee is grown by smallholder farms, which will be less than two hectares. While organisations like Fairtrade offer support to some, many farmers will be left unprepared for the effects of climate change.
How Is the Coffee Industry Reacting?
There are a number of ways in which the coffee industry has started to prepare for the effects of climate change. Some farmers have adapted the way in which they grow coffee. They have taken to growing their coffee at higher levels, as well as planting trees around the coffee plants. By planting trees, the coffee plants are kept shaded during hot periods, creating ‘shade-grown coffee’. However, while moving plantations to higher altitudes is a good solution for coffee farmers, this isn’t necessarily the best approach, as the expansion of coffee production into these regions will displace the wildlife and indigenous communities that call the mountains and forest areas their home.
The World Coffee Research organisation runs a multi-million-dollar coffee monitoring program that involves over 1000 farms in 20 different countries. They test new agricultural practices and coffee varietals to discover what will work best for the changing climate. Similarly, Starbuck’s bought 600 acres of coffee land in Costa Rica in 2013, for the purpose of studying and testing the effects of climate change on coffee. They use the land to grow new varietals of coffee to discover which types are most resilient to unstable climates.
How Can You Help?
As coffee lovers, we can play our part in reducing the terrible effects climate change will have on coffee by taking a few steps to become a more ethical coffee drinker. Even small changes can make a big difference, so why not try switching to more sustainable beans or use a more eco-friendly brewing method, such as the AeroPress UK.