There’s been talk of climate change delivering a blow to the coffee industry, and a new report is shining light on the ways it is beginning to take a toll on the world’s java.
In a report compiling numerous studies of climate change and coffee, the Climate Institute provides strong evidence that rising temperatures and altered rainfall patterns are already affecting coffee crops. This means over the next few decades, coffee production will undergo some dramatic shifts.
Coffee plants thrive in stable environments, but once favorable countries, such as Colombia and Ethiopia, have started to become less suitable as global warming shifts their weather patterns.
“We’re fearful that by 2050 we might see as much as a 50 percent decline in productivity and production of coffee around the world, which is not so good,” Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand chief executive Molly Harries Olson told ABC News.
Coffee beans are seen in the roaster during the process of making the Miami Beach blend of coffee at the Kana Coffee Roasters in Margate, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
According to the report, Ethiopia’s average annual temperature rose by 34˚F between 1960 and 2006. Similarly, in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, mean temperatures have jumped by as much as 33˚F, and rainfall has declined by up to 15 percent since the mid-1990s. Even half a degree difference at the wrong time can alter the coffee yield, flavor and smell.
The changing climate is also opening the door for other problems, like coffee pests and diseases.
“In 2012, following unusually high temperatures and high-altitude rains, Central America was hit by a wave of Coffee Leaf Rust (Hemileia vastatrix),” researchers wrote in the report. “The plant disease spread quickly through highlands, affected more than 50 percent of the crop, with some Guatemalan producers losing up to 85 percent of their crop. In Colombia, the fungus is being reported in mountainous regions previously too cool for it to survive.”
A woman roasts coffee seeds inside a Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee farm and cafe in Tampaksiring, Bali, Indonesia. (Nicky Loh/Getty Images for World Animal Protection)
The Climate Institute also references the Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus hampei), which causes crop damages amounting to $500 million annually. Since 2001, the pest has spread into places such as Tanzania, Uganda and Indonesia, drawn by hot and wet conditions. A warming of 33˚F to 35˚F would greatly increase the borer’s populations.
“The extra warmth is enabling those sorts of lines of attack to be strengthened,” Climate Institute chief executive John Connor told The New York Times.
Along with this blooming problem, there’s also a possibility that wild coffee could go extinct.
In 2012, researchers looked at wild Arabica coffee and suggested that climate change could push the crop into extinction by 2010. Robusta coffee, found in the Congo Basin, could similarly fizzle out by 2050.
According to the Times, one project is seeking to develop a gene bank to preserve the genetic diversity in Arabica coffee. Another strategy being looked at is the creation of a variety catalog with information on numerous coffee beans’ pest resistance, yield and their ability to thrive at certain altitudes.
A man holds up roasted Kopi Luwak coffee seeds inside a Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee farm and cafe in Tampaksiring, Bali, Indonesia. (Nicky Loh/Getty Images for World Animal Protection)
As forward-thinking as these possibilities are, a lot remains to be learned about how best to help coffee farmers.
“It usually takes decades for new and improved practices, and new crop varieties, to be developed and then adopted by farmers,” writes the Institute. “These long lead-times heighten the climate risk to coffee producers, especially given how fast the world is warming and new risks emerging.”
The researchers suggest that coffee drinkers learn about the challenges coffee producers and communities face and what is being done to make a difference.
Choosing a brand that is carbon neutral guarantees a fair return to smallholder farms and helps build their capacity to adapt to climate change.