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Climate Change and Coffee

Farmer-to-consumer coffee production is a huge industry and provides the livelihoods of nearly 100 million people worldwide. The value of the industry is 10 billion dollars per year. On a larger world scale, coffee production is a very significant proportion of many countries' exports, and this could have devastating economic consequences for those countries. In recent years, there have been great problems in coffee production due to problems such as diseases, pests and drought. These problems are increasing rapidly as a result of climate change.

Kew Gardens has been at the forefront of wild plant conservation and research since the mid-1800s and has been researching wild coffee species for over two decades. Most of his research has been conducted in Ethiopia, the birthplace of Arabica coffee. Dr Aaron Davis has recently published a journal outlining the drastic effects that climate change will have on coffee production worldwide. Dr Aaron Davis states that Arabica coffee is now considered an endangered species, as it is 60% of all known wild coffee species. This is due to deforestation, climate change and increasing severity of fungal diseases. The Kew gardens research also found that 'current conservation measures for wild species are insufficient to ensure the long-term future of coffee'.

Due to the unique collection of specialty cultivars found in Ethiopia, several case studies have been made here by Kew. In 2012 they predicted that 'the effects of climate change on wild species in Ethiopia will reduce them by 85% by 2080'. While new climate-hardy species are found for crossbreeding, this has serious consequences. All of the ancient strains that have been successful in mainstream coffee production came from Ethiopia, which is becoming less and less likely.

In 2017, this forecast became even more bleak for coffee farmers, as the Kew team estimated that the effects of climate change on Ethiopia's coffee production would mean that 60% of the land used will become unsustainable by the end of the century. These are stark warnings of the effects of rising temperatures, rainfall scarcity and deforestation on the industry. This is nothing new, however, as Asia has recently suffered a total shambles in coffee production due to warmer climates that have allowed fungal diseases such as leaf rust to thrive and destroy fields.

What are coffee experts, farmers and buyers doing to restore and maintain sustainable coffee production?

Kew's research and projections seek to 'help (farmers) better understand the risks so that appropriate response and planning measures such as assisted migration, forest protection and regeneration can be put in place'. One farm we regularly support in Ethiopia is Mount Kayon. Owned by Ato Esmael, the farm was established to produce socially and environmentally friendly coffee. The farm is certified organic where only animal manure is used for fertilizer. Heirloom coffee trees are planted under a natural shade of protected trees, forming a vital ecosystem for the development of all surrounding wildlife.

This social and environmental awareness is crucial in today's climate, no more than in Brazil, as mass deforestation for agriculture and industry has destroyed many communities and habitats. Edio Miranda, a producer we have recently supported, is interested in making coffee production as sustainable as possible. Taking care of the maintenance of the soil, the protection of rivers and native species by keeping “green runways” throughout the property. It is vital that future generations make this focus and target a sustainable business in all three aspects: economic, social and environmental.

Rarely do we hear or see the incredible work that experts around the world are doing to address the possible threat of coffee extinction. It is important to understand the threats climate change poses to coffee. Coffee needs a balance of warm days and cold nights to increase and then expand the development of sugars in the cherry. Crops can withstand increases in projected temperatures caused by climate change, but only if there is enough water for the crops. This is where the problems arise.

Higher temperatures and longer warm seasons result in less precipitation and changing seasons for coffee production. Most wild species adapt to survive in their environment. They develop climate-hardy traits and are disease-tolerant due to their adaptability to dry conditions, shorter rainy seasons or moist wet conditions. This is where the idea of ​​'crop wild relatives' originated. Use of wild species and related plants that have the genetic resources to provide disease, pest and climate resistance. Once these genes are crossed into vulnerable Arabica strains it can be detected.

This is in Ethiopia n Coffea has already become famous in the coffee industry with the introduction of a wild strain called Canephora. The strain 'had certain genes that exploited the wild coffee variety to solve production problems'. They found that wild species adapted to warmer climates, lower elevations, and higher productivity and easier production. Its durable properties and strong taste inspired its industry name, Robusta. There have been less successful attempts to breed wild species. The Coffea Liberica species showed all the signs of an incredible equivalent to Arabica, with great yields, good climate and disease tolerance, but the taste was terrible. One result of the launch of Robusta is that it was very successful (now equivalent to 40% of all coffee production).

As an elusive species, Coffea Sterophylla was last seen in Sierra Leone in 1954 and is considered extinct. It is unknown how much it could help with crossbreeding or cultivating for coffee production, but it is considered an exciting discovery as the strain is renowned for exquisite flavors that surpass Arabica.


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