Coffee is one of the most culturally and economically significant crops in the world, but its future is at risk due to climate change. More than 25 million farmers in more than 60 countries grow coffee, supporting the livelihoods of more than 120 million people around the world. Producers are already seeing increased temperatures, extreme weather events, and intensified pest and disease pressure that threatens coffee production, particularly for farmers with limited financial and technical resources to assist with adaptation strategies. What does the future hold for our morning coffee, and those who grow it?
A new study published this year models the future potential of growing coffee arabica plants based on predicted climate change impacts. It found that by 2050, warming of 1.2 to 3 degrees Celsius is expected, impacting the ability of coffee to grow in many regions, or requiring adaptation strategies, such as planting heat-tolerant varieties.
Coffee arabica is particularly sensitive to climate change, and most current coffee production regions will experience strong reductions in suitability for the crop. According to the models conducted as part of the study, the overall suitability of growing coffee plants will be “drastically” decreased by 2050. Only a few regions in the northern and southern edges of current coffee growing areas, such as Southern Brazil, Argentina, USA, East Africa, South Africa, New Zealand, and others may benefit from a change in climate, due to an increase in temperature during their coldest months. Overall, the study found a decrease in suitable area for coffee production by 30-50%.
In 2019, researchers examined 34 peer-reviewed articles on the impacts of climate change on coffee production, mostly focused on arabica production in the Americas. This review came to the same conclusion as the study published this year–that increased temperatures and drought will result in a loss of land area suitable for coffee growth, as well as yield declines and increases in pests and disease that negatively impact coffee production. Because coffee plants are very sensitive to climatic conditions, water shortages and increased temperatures result in reduced fruiting and coffee bean quality.
Arabica coffee grows best at 18-22 degrees Celsius. Outside of this range, yields and quality decline, and yields could decline as much as 70% in the Americas. Decreased pollination services, increased distribution of coffee borer pests, and a decreased incubation period for Roya (coffee rust) are also expected. Adaptation strategies identified by the literature review as being supportive of resilience in the face of climate change include agroforestry, efficient water management, and the development and planting of drought and heat-resistant varieties with greater pest and disease tolerance. Diversification of income sources and cropping patterns, as well as relocation of coffee farms or the shift of current coffee plantations to different crops were also identified as adaptation strategies.
So how does this impact the producers we work with in Guatemala? Chajulense farmers have already experienced negative impacts of roya (coffee rust) and coffee borer beetles. Each has been sufficiently managed through soil and plant health strengthening practices and organic traps, respectively. Strengthened soil quality and stability increases water holding capacity of soils and reduces runoff and erosion, while storing water for periods of drought. It also increases carbon storage. But, increased temperatures, water instability, and greater pest and disease pressure will always present new challenges.
Ultimately, the future of coffee is uncertain in Guatemala. While adaptation measures can support environmental resilience, economic resilience comes from diversification of income sources. The Coffee Trust works to support future livelihoods of coffee producers and their families through self-managed development projects. CocoMiel supports producers through paying a premium for the products we purchase, sharing profits with producers, and supporting The Coffee Trust’s programs with these same producers. These programs include:
- Microcredit programs, to give women opportunities to start their own small business in weaving, retail, or others. These small businesses provide stability to families and reduce reliance on coffee production.
- Scholarship programs, to support students in earning advanced degrees that can strengthen their communities.
- A honey program, to provide coffee producers with an alternative source of income.
- Agricultural development, to strengthen soils through the use of mountain microorganisms, a mixture of beneficial bacteria that increases soil fertility and productivity of coffee plants.
Learn more about The Coffee Trust on their website: thecoffeetrust.org
Support Chajulense coffee producers by purchasing green or roasted beans here.