World coffee production has more than tripled since the 1960s to supply the market with a value of $ 19 billion, with annual consumption continuing to increase by 5 percent per year.
However, according to some studies, the size of the areas that are suitable for coffee cultivation will be halved until 2050. An australian research group claims that the phenomenon will pass off gradually, but coffee shrubs in areas such as Mexico may already disappear by 2020.
Tropical countries are the best for coffee
Tropical countries are the best places for coffee cultivation, and eventually these will be the most exposed to the effects of the climate changes (the Arabica coffee plant is quite sensitive, so this will have an increased effect on them). The plant prefers high altitudes, a temperature between 18 and 21 degrees and moderate rainfall. If any of these conditions miss, the average yield will drastically deteriorate, or worse, the plants will perish. Not to mention that the warmer weather will give way to threatening diseases and pests. According to another report this will in addition mean a deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars to the coffee growers.
Arabica: a constantly growing demand
Arabica coffee makes up the 70 percent of the world’s supply today. And the demand is constantly growing. The world’s average consumption is 2.25 billion cups per day, the production can barely keep up with the volume.
This means that if the current pace of climate change subsists, a drastic price increase might be expected in a few years, that is to say the coffee will slowly get in the luxury category. The coffee researchers of the world recognize the threats associated with climate change and develop new strategies and many people focus more on adaptation than prevention.
The temperature, however, seems to increase continually, which will generate new problems. One example is a project related to creating a gene bank for the conservation of the genetic diversity of Arabica coffee.
I another program, a complex list would be generated, which would include informations about the possibilities of protection against a variety of beans-loving pests. The third project is a “sensory lexicon” in which the international organization evaluates new varieties bred by coffee growers according to the impact of the flavors on consumers.
Coffee shrubs are sensitive
The coffee plant is very sensitive to variations in temperature and humidity. Cultivated on three continents, South America, Africa and Asia, it represents a good witness of the consequences of global warming. But adaptation might be the only possible solution in the future for the 100 million people living by coffee production in the world.
Two varieties share the coffee zones: robusta and arabica, with the complex flavor cherished by the Europeans. The first -as its name indicates- is the more robust, occupying great areas in the Congo Basin. It grows without difficulty and its growth is fast but its aroma lacks subtlety. It is more resistant to the new climate.
Arabica, originally from East Africa, is a shrub with red fruits in which the coffee beans hide. Its main quality lies in a very pronounced aroma due to the slow maturation of the fruits. The shrub, made up of many sub-varieties, grows on higher altitudes mainly in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, but also in Brazil and Colombia.
Very sensitive to the heat, the “Arabian coffee” -named after the Arab merchants who publicized it in the 19th century- is planted in the shade of leafy trees like bananas or cocoa trees.
Climate change is threatening: extinction by 2080?
In all regions where it is growing today, arabica will increasingly be confronted with the brutality of climatic events linked to warming. For example, in Latin America (with Brazil in the lead) the El Niño phenomenon (aggravated from year to year) is causing the warming of the Equatorial Pacific Ocean.
As a result, rainfall is increasing in parts of the continent and drought is increasingly devastating in others. The country of the samba, the world’s biggest producer, sees progressively the cultivation of coffee hardly tested on its lands.
A study by researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew in London concludes that wild arabica plants are threatened with extinction by 2080, and some by 2020. With this clarification: “Other factors such as parasites and diseases, changes in flowering periods, and perhaps a reduction in the number of birds (which disperse the coffee beans) are not included in the study”.
Increased temperatures and precipitation have already increased the incidence of diseases and parasites that affect yields and quality. In countries that are already hot, an even greater warming will also create barriers to the physical and mental health of producers, workers and communities – and, of course, will have an influence on productivity.
The solution for farmers is adaptation to a market valued at nearly $ 16 billion and an annual production of between 5 and 7 million tonnes. Some of the main approaches are already being followed by the major groups, but they prove to be inaccessible for small producers: to preserve water and to set up an irrigation system where previously it was not necessary.
Also, to move to higher altitudes and to maintain the ideal temperature conditions for arabica cultivation; engaging in genetic research for varieties that are less demanding in water and more resistant to high temperatures.
Experts at the International Trade Center believe that the reduction in the number of coffee-growing regions around the world is likely, adding that this reduction of cultivable lands will further encourage the concentration of nectar production.
And the same experts warned that “any severe disruption in the production of one of the main players would lead to a massive reduction in world production.” For them, it is clear that global warming will increase the cost of coffee production while that the competition for available arable land is likely to become merciless.
While there have never been as many coffee drinkers in the world – consumption has almost doubled over the past 20 years, according to the International Coffee Organization – the inexorable rise in temperatures will force amateurs to change their tastes or accept to pay higher prices for their beloved black drink.