It shouldn’t really be much of a surprise that climate change can impact coffee farmers - the varying environmental conditions of the globe cause irregular temperatures, rain, and humidity. These conditions, of course, are what can make or break a farmer’s harvest each season. Unfortunately, for the coffee addicts of the world, coffee is a crop that is suffering from these environmental changes, causing major problems for the global coffee industry. Lulu Garcia-Navarro reported for NPR that last year’s Robusta bean production was down 30% by October. The bright side is that Arabica is doing better than predicted. Regardless, all coffee farms are susceptible to certain harms due to climate change. In September 2016, The Coffee Institute laid it out in a study discussing how climate change impacts the regions' growing coffee, both the growth itself and the community producing it. We break down some of the major factors behind these changes in this blog post.
Coffee growth depends on consistent conditions: a higher altitude that is hot and humid during the day with cooler temperatures at night. It also needs rich soil and a lot of rain. These conditions tend to be found in what is known as “The Bean Belt,” between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, and incidentally, coffee grows best in this part of the world. Climate change also creates less suitable land for coffee to be produced on. This is significant because even minor changes in temperature and climate changes the flavor and quality of the coffee beans. It also impacts yield, making it less consistent throughout the year and leaving farmers to have to scatter coffee ripening. So, you could find new areas to grow, but again, the coffee quality will be varied.
Higher temperatures make plants more affected by diseases like Coffee Leaf Rust. In 2012, almost 350,000 Central American laborers lost work directly because of the spread of the fungus. Although the study doesn’t go into other diseases, there is no reason to believe that it couldn’t cause a spike in other diseases like Black Root Rot, which thrives in warmer weather. Or Coffee Berry Disease, which may not be found below 1000 meters, but could become more prevalent as farmers are forced to move higher up the mountain to more favorable growing conditions. In addition, pests like the Coffee Berry Borer have increased reproductive numbers as the climate becomes hotter. Moreover, the Coffee Berry Borer can now move higher up the mountain following the increasingly hotter and wetter conditions, where the coffee plants reside.
Another major issue to consider is that coffee production requires a lot of water. To make one cup of coffee, from beginning to end, requires about 37 gallons of water. A likely unsustainable problem in itself that definitely doesn’t help coffee production when there is prolonged drought followed by a torrential downpour. Lastly, declining coffee production will impact the lives of over 120 million people who rely on the supply chain jobs coffee creates. This goes beyond simply having less to contribute and then gain from the market, but also in the health and wellbeing of these farmers and their teams.
As you can see, there is work being done to up our chances of continued caffeine. Jonah Engel Bromwich from The New York Times talks about efforts from companies like Starbucks to support farmers on projects aimed at preserving the genetics of Arabica coffee beans. We are just brushing the surface here, but it is important to be aware of how a changing world can change your cup.