• How Will Climate Change Affect Coffee?

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How Will Climate Change Affect Coffee?

Jul 21 2017

Experts from Kew Gardens in London have warned that coffee beans could be in shorter supply, of poorer quality and selling at a higher price as a result of climate change. Raised global temperatures could potentially lead to a reduction in the amount of land that is suitable to coffee production over the coming century if action is not taken.

Published in the journal Nature Plants, the report predicts that unless something is done to curb global warming, the amount of land suitable for the popular Arabica bean could shrink by well over half in the Americas and by more than two-thirds in South East Asia.

Demand outweighing supply

Coffee has never been a more popular commodity than it is now. Since 1980, its consumption has nearly doubled, with just 4.9 billion kilograms sold that year and 9.5 billion last year. In 2017, the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) predicts that consumption of the bean will outweigh its production for the third year in a row.

Price hikes have only been avoided by the industry up until now due to its foresight in previous years; producers have been stockpiling reserves in particularly plentiful seasons and have been tapping into those to meet the increasing demand.

However, the past few years have taken its toll and the ICO have made it clear that those reserves are now running low. As a result, consumers of coffee at home and all around the world could face rising prices if the poor yields continue.

Climate change the culprit

While climate change has been making its presence felt in the UK through extreme flooding in 2015 and 2016, other parts of the planet have been grappling with the inverse problem. In Brazil, coffee producers have suffered from the worst drought the country has faced since records began nearly 100 years ago, leading the government to consider the importation of beans for the first time this year.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia (the home of the Arabica bean) is facing serious problem of its own. The Kew study found that if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue at their current rate, the global temperature could rise by as much as 4°C – which would spell disaster for Ethiopia. 60% of its coffee territory could be lost.

Even more conservative estimates of global warming could see the territory shrink by as much as 55%. With roughly 16% of the Ethiopian population (15 million people) dependent on coffee for their livelihood, there is clearly more than just rising prices in the west at stake.

Technology to the rescue?

Despite its drought, Brazil has managed to maintain impressive harvests over recent years in certain quarters, largely due to advances in technology and how it has helped boost production.

Meanwhile, the analyses of complex environmental matrices hold many exciting possibilities for the future of our planet. Among these, there is the potential to artificially manufacture strains of the Arabica bean which are more resistant to extreme climates. With the publication of the entire Arabica genome in 2014, it’s surely only a matter of time until such a scenario becomes a reality.

In the meantime, however, that does nothing to help the millions of people worldwide who rely on coffee production as a means of income – not to mention those who rely on it as a means of waking up in the morning. The real solution must be to limit global warming in line with the targets agreed upon at the COP21 Paris climate talks, requiring a collective effort from everyone involved.

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