Life without coffee sounds awfully grim and slow, but rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are brewing trouble for our precious beans – and the people who grow them. In a new report, Australia’s climate institute warned that by 2050, 50 percent of the land currently used to grow coffee beans could be rendered unfit for the job, and wild coffee plants could be completely extinct by 2080. But climate change isn’t some far off distant thing to worry about – it is already causing huge upheavals in an industry that globally pours 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day.
Author Corey Watts writes in the report, “Since 1850, the average global temperature has already risen by nearly 1°C. By 2100, the world is projected to warm by a further 2.6°C to 4.8°C in a likely scenario. This may sound like small changes but the consequences for global agriculture and development will be far-reaching, complex, and dire. Between 80 and 90% of the world’s 25 million coffee farmers are smallholders—they are among the people most exposed to climate change. As the world warms, market and climate volatility will combine to cause problems for producers and consumers.”
He adds that over 120 million people in more than 70 countries rely on the “coffee value chain” to survive, and that countries with economies most dependent on coffee are also the most vulnerable to climate change, including Honduras, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Guatemala.
The 70-country “bean belt” will disintegrate, and more coffee farmers will shift their produce “upslope” in search of cooler temperatures.
Global coffee merchants like Starbucks are neither immune nor oblivious to the challenges they face in maintaining their bottom line, and many companies are publicly acknowledging the risks associated with unabated climate change. In the report, Watts quotes Jim Hanna, Director, Environmental Affairs at Starbucks, who said, “What we are really seeing as a company as we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road—if conditions continue as they are—is a potentially significant risk to our supply chain… If we sit by and wait until the impacts of climate change are so severe that is impacting our supply chain then that puts us at a greater risk.”
Adaptation measures for smallholders include “developing more resilient production systems, diversifying crops, and shifting plantations upslope,” according to the report. But their ability to adapt will depend a great deal on “education, access to information, health, equity, food security, and other factors, some of which are beyond their control, such as global markets.”
Meanwhile, quality and taste are already changing, as even half a degree can have a huge affect on a coffee bean, and prices are rising.
Watts says we, the consumer, can help. Here are a couple of tips:
“Some coffee companies, under pressure from consumers and realising the risks, are beginning to assist smallholders to adapt. Choose brands that guarantee a fair return to smallholder farmers and their communities, helping them build their capacity to adapt to climate change. Demand action from companies and governments.”
Images via Pixabay