Climate Change is real and we could lose our favorite brew. The future of our good morning coffee is at risk. Climate change warnings have been signalled by countries over the last few years, and while its taken its toll on the planet, it may now impact coffee lovers specifically. Rising global temperatures and weather patterns that are increasingly extreme and unpredictable are
threatening the livelihoods of coffee farmers around the world, warn researchers at the Earth Institute’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and Fairtrade. Fairtrade’s Global CEO Nyagoy Nyong’o recently said that “Coffee is a demanding and highly sensitive commodity and coffee crops respond dramatically to weather variations. Pair the economic and trade impact of the coffee market with the unpredictable effects of climate change and we have an issue of concern for both coffee growers and coffee consumers. The future of coffee is at risk.”
The value chain of your daily cup of coffee is extremely complex and can appear to be very simplistic to the end consumer. Nothing about coffee is particularly easy, especially in the face of climate variability and change. Farmers in Mexico, have recently been exposed to leaf rust due to the changing weather patterns and rising temperatures. In a 2012 this fungul outbreak destroyed around 40% of the coffee crop of affected producers and nearly 10 years later, the fungus continues to pose a serious challenge to farmers’ livelihoods. Long dry spells or sudden torrential rains in Africa means coffee growers have to increasingly contend with pest outbreaks, all of which can destroy or reduce their harvests.
The current international prices do not reflect the full economic, social and environmental costs of climate change on coffee production, which is a matter currently being looked at by Fair Trade but is likely to impact the bottom line of poor and impoverished farmers. In recent years, the coffee price has been so far below Fairtrade’s minimum price that it would not even cover the cost of production.
In June 2021, Fairtrade unveiled a new climate guide drawn from the experiences of 8,500 farmers who attended Fairtrade’s Climate Academy in Kenya and aimed at communicating key insights on climate change adaptation and mitigation for the world’s coffee farmers. The Climate Academy Guide provides information that can be adapted to suit coffee farmers in diverse geographical locations, including best farm practices such as soil and water management, waste management, energy use, coffee tree management and on-farm forestry.
Researchers at IRI understand that boosting the climate resilience of smallholder coffee production around the world can be an important food security strategy. Although coffee is not a food crop, the income from its production plays a significant role in the food security of many communities.
Models and predictions based on global warming pathways and scenarios provide the long-term picture,” said J. Nicolas Hernandez-Aguilera, an IRI research scientist. She went on to say that “it is not clear how these models relate to farmers’ decisions.
Thankfully, it is not all doom and gloom. Scientists say a “forgotten” coffee plant that can grow in warmer conditions could help future-proof the drink against climate change. They predict we could soon be sipping Stenophylla, a rare wild coffee from West Africa that tastes like Arabica coffee, but grows in warmer conditions.
As temperatures rise, good coffee will become increasingly difficult to grow. Studies suggest that by 2050, about half of land used for high-quality coffee will be unproductive.
To find a wild coffee that tastes great and is heat and drought tolerant is “the holy grail of coffee breeding”, said Dr Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Coffea Stenophylla is a wild coffee species from West Africa which, until recently, was thought to be extinct outside Ivory Coast. The plant was recently re-discovered growing wild in Sierra Leone, where it was historically grown as a coffee crop about a century ago. A small sample of coffee beans from Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast were roasted and made into coffee, which was then tasted by a panel of coffee connoisseurs. Over 80% of judges could not tell the difference between Stenophylla and the world’s most popular coffee, Arabica, in blind tastings, the researchers reported in the journal Nature Plants. They also modelled climate data for the plant, which suggests it can potentially tolerate temperatures at least 6C higher than Arabica. via Sprudge
As coffee lovers we cant assume that this will be our saving grace. We have to get back to the basics of conservation and ensure that we combat climate change head on, both in our actions and through our voices to those around us, especially, those in power.
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