The Climate Institute has released a new report about the effects of climate change on the coffee industry – and it’s bad news for coffee-lovers, farmers, rural communities, and even coffee shop giants.
The report, called “A Brewing Storm”, commissioned by Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand, noted that rising temperatures and changing patterns of rainfall are massively affecting the yields, pests, diseases, quality, and taste of coffee. This is expected to cut the global coffee production by 50 percent by 2050. By 2080, wild coffee – which they cite as “an important genetic resource for farmers” – is likely to be extinct.
Many of the world’s coffee hubs, spanning Central America and East Africa and known as the "Bean Belt", are already feeling the effects of rising temperatures and changes to rainfall. For example, in Tanzania, the study discovered that coffee production has fallen by 50 percent in the past 50 years, with yields being reduced by “37 kilograms per hectare for every 1°C rise".
The lead victim is the Arabica coffee bean, which is grown in tropical highlands. This type of coffee makes up over 70 percent of global supply and is revered for its quality, aroma, and taste. However, it is extremely picky when it come to temperature, with even just 1°C massively affecting its yield, flavor, and aroma. The alternative is Robusta, which is typically used in instant coffee; less aromatic, but also less sensitive to rising temperatures. Therefore, it’s likely the coffee of the future will taste and smell a lot different.
The Climate Institute
But while coffee connoisseurs will be hugely disappointed, it’s farmers and rural communities that will be hardest hit. The world has nearly 25 million smallholder coffee farmers and workers who will find it nearly impossible to adjust to this change. The report notes how “the coming decades are likely to see dramatic shifts in where and how much coffee is produced worldwide.” It estimates that it will be unviable to grow coffee in Mexico as early as the 2020s, Nicaragua by 2050, and Tanzanian Arabica yields are set to be “critically low” by 2060.
Workers on coffee farms have notoriously low wages, poor job security, and low living standards. The study notes that coffee farms are already hotbeds for wage slavery, forced labor, and child labor. As the pressure on the supply chain increases, this is only going to get worse.
Even the big dogs of the coffee industry, including Starbucks and Lavazza, have previously showed concern.
The study does have some advice, however: “For coffee drinkers keen to help, the first step is to learn about the challenges faced by coffee producers and communities, and about what organizations such as Fairtrade and others are doing to make a difference.”
The researchers conclude: “Most consumers can now choose brands that are carbon neutral, guarantee a fair return to smallholder farmers and their communities, and help them build their capacity to adapt to climate change. Finally, people can demand action from all companies and their governments to ensure all products, businesses, and economies are carbon neutral or better.”
The Climate Institute