Climate Change and Coffee
Believe in it or not, shifting weather patterns are noticeably affecting crops all over the world and coffee is not an exception to the rule. Increasingly volatile storms, droughts, and floodwaters are destroying coffee crops on small farms that grow 80% of the world’s coffee. More than ever, coffee retailers are paying closer attention to where they source their beans. This heightened awareness is good news for coffee farms who depend on the money from buyers who desire to have a healthy yield. And although the situation is worsening, all is not lost.
Global warming is creating a unique vortex of problems. First, are the rising temperatures that have produced widespread global droughts. This lack of precipitation during the summer months, and high heat index, is killing pollinating insects and rampantly spreading plant diseases. It is also causing coffee plants to not flower and produce healthy cherries properly. This increase in the overall global temperature will continue to increase with projections of it rising from 1.5 degrees Celsius to 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 according to a study done by The Sustainable Trade Initiative. This may not sound like much, but a couple degree increase/decrease in the average global temperature is the difference between the ice-caps melting and flooding our coastlines, and the next ice age.
Already, coffee producers are looking towards the mountains: literally. With increased temperatures and droughts during the high-season, comes varied rainfall and intense storms in the low-season. The violent storms bringing excess rainfall are flooding valleys where Robusta coffee is mainly grown. Robusta coffee is important to note because it can be grown at lower altitudes successfully unlike Arabica coffee which requires a very specific temperature range, therefore it is exclusively grown at higher altitudes. Robusta only makes for 30% of the global market share while Arabica takes 70% of the pie. But, if measures aren’t taken to combat climate change the world is looking at, at least, 55% off the farmable land to disappear for Robusta coffee and 49-56% for Arabica. These changes in the environment will also threaten what the IDH calls the “genetic heritage” of the coffee plant. Layering the recent demand for coffee, replacing tea, in Asian countries; who make up a large part of the world’s population with the decreased projections of available farmable land, we are staring down the barrel of a worldwide coffee shortage.
So, what can be done? It is a silver lining, of sorts, that larger corporations operating in the coffee industry are also affected by climate change. Increased monetary flow has invested in the rehabilitation and restoration of damaged farms by drought, floodwaters, and plant disease. There is also the development of cross-species of Coffea (genus) to be more resilient to extreme weather. In addition, farmers are becoming savvier because of the newly available educational materials on agroforestry and crop diversification. This is monumental: assisting farm owners to continue to turn a profit while utilizing natural farming system and shade-grown coffee plants to cut down on overall water usage. Adopting environmentally safe ways of dealing with pests and the focus on rebuilding surrounding forests (to prevent soil run-off and mudslide/floods) is also a huge contribution to protect what we already have. Unfortunately, more than anyone, smallholders and women produced farms are being hit the hardest. These collectives rely on coffee as their only source of income. Price volatility, limited access to resources, and less autonomy are holding these producers at the mercy of circumstance and the future weather changes. What is being done is increased monetary support for women-run coffee farms and rising awareness of the importance of supporting these little-known coffee producers
Where we are now and the Future
At the moment, we are heavy in the investment phase without any tangible outcomes being present. The only solutions that are moving along is the strengthening of the individual coffee farmer, land development/environmental policies, and the development of new coffee varieties resistant to climate change, but what are these varieties and will they adversely affect specialty coffee standards? There are many questions yet to be answered but we know that you can help by supporting sustainable practices.
Every time you buy organic and fair trade Black River Roasters coffee you are directly donating to the people on the front lines of the climate change fight. Your money goes directly to supporting coffee farmers and their communities, who in turn re-invest their money in progressive methods to produce the highest quality coffee available on the market today without destroying the environment or their humanity.
Take a look into joining our coffee club to experience why organic is simply better.