They may take our land, they may take our freedom, but please don’t take our coffee. Actually, please don’t take any of those things, they’re all rather important, but seriously, I need my coffee in the morning.
A new study, published in the journal Nature Plants, has revealed that global warming could wipe out up to 60 percent of Ethiopia’s coffee-growing production in the next 80 years unless farmers move to higher ground.
Since Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, and its nomadic people the first to recognize coffee’s stimulating powers back in the 10th century (although they ate the berries rather than brewed it) – this is rather alarming news.
Ethiopia gave the world Coffea arabica, the species that provides most of the world’s coffee today, and is the world’s fifth-largest producer of coffee beans. It is Africa’s largest producer of Arabica coffee, with around 15 million Ethiopians depending on the industry for a living and earning $800 million for the nation each year.
But with the effects of climate change – higher temperatures, less rainfall, and increasing drought – affecting coffee-growing regions, researchers have predicted that Ethiopia could lose between 39 and 59 percent of its coffee-growing areas by 2100, as the land won’t be able to sustain growth for the last 30 years of the century.
Over the last 50 years, average temperatures across the country have risen by 1.5°C (2.7°F) and rainfall has declined by almost 100 centimeters (40 inches). During the three-year study, local farmers told the researchers that some could remember excellent yearly harvests six or seven decades ago, now successful harvests in some key areas only happen once every five years.
"All but a few reported that there had been changes in their local and regional climate, including an increase in the unpredictability of the seasons," co-author Aaron Davis, a scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK, told AFP.
It’s not too late to act though. Using satellite imagery and climate models to predict changes driven by global warming across Ethiopia, they found there was the potential to save the coffee by moving it to higher ground.
Most coffee in Ethiopia is grown in the highlands at altitudes of 1,200 to 2,200 meters (3,900 to 7,200 feet), but as the lower regions become more inhospitable, the researchers think it will be possible to grow it at even higher altitudes. They found that higher up there is more than twice the 19,000 square kilometers (7,300 square miles) currently used, though much of it is forested.
It won't be easy. It will take a lot of coordination, effort, and resources – which many local farmers and smallholders don't have – but this study aims to show how that the country's coffee industry can be saved if the effort is put in now.