Climate change is set to have unprecedented effects on the farming industry, including coffee production.
In this century, experts predict global temperatures will rise by 3ºC (37.4ºF) during the hottest months. Rising temperatures can cause droughts, kill insects that pollinate coffee plants, and lead to a range of coffee plant diseases.
As a result, high-quality arabica coffee may become increasingly difficult to grow, which, in turn, will make it more expensive to source. This could jeopardise over 20 million farmers and workers who depend on the coffee industry for their livelihood.
To preserve the future of everyone in the industry, and to keep coffee as affordable as possible, it is clear that action needs to be taken.
To learn more about how climate change affects coffee-producing countries, I spoke with corporate sustainability professional Allie Stauss.
How is climate change affecting coffee-producing countries?
Climate change and farmer profitability are two existential crises that the coffee industry faces.
“These issues are interconnected and both require significant action to maintain the industry’s viability into the future,” says Allie, who is also a certified supply chain analyst. “As global temperatures increase and precipitation patterns become more variable, the experience of smallholders growing coffee across Latin America, Africa, and Asia is changing dramatically.”
These changes come in the form of extreme weather, such as droughts, storms, frosts, and heatwaves. Allie explains that these weather events make coffee cultivation challenging.
“This may cause farmers to move from their ancestral lands to places more conducive to growing coffee,” she says. “Particularly into higher elevations where suitable land is already scarce.”
Additionally, climate change is making coffee production less viable in many countries. It is predicted that four out of the world’s five top coffee-producing countries will see their successful growing areas decrease significantly.
Notably, studies suggest that by 2050, about half of the land used to grow high-quality arabica coffee will be unproductive. This number could increase to as much as 88% for coffee farms in Latin America.
The industry is already seeing the effects of climate change. According to research published in Time magazine, 15 years ago, the average coffee farm in Costa Rica produced around 14.5 bags of coffee per acre. That figure has since plummeted to fewer than ten bags per acre.
Furthermore, as the global population continues to grow, the demand for coffee is set to rise with it.
If coffee becomes less available and more expensive, there is a risk it could become a luxury product that fewer customers can afford.
What are the implications for the coffee industry?
As coffee cultivation becomes less viable, an increasing number of farmers are looking for alternative revenue streams.
The threat of climate change and industry instability is forcing many to turn to crops such as cacao and avocados. As a result, less coffee is being produced as there are fewer farms growing it.
Furthermore, relocating coffee farms to higher altitudes means mountain and forest reserves are becoming prime locations. However, this may result in the displacement of wildlife and indigineous communities – making this a problematic and short-term alternative.
That said, research is being carried out to make coffee crops more resistant to fluctuating temperatures and growing conditions.
Even so, coffee is a sensitive crop, as the recent arabica crisis in Brazil highlighted. The average regional temperature fell as low as -1.2°C (29°F), causing irreparable damage to the coffee plants.
While this research is making headway, coffee is highly susceptible to changes in its growing environment. More so, the plants require considerable time to adjust to changes in everything from the pH in the soil to the average yearly rainfall. As a result, farmers may not be able to respond to crop issues in time and production yields could fall.
This combination of factors could push coffee prices up – particularly the sought-after arabica variety – and it will be more and more difficult for roasters to source quality coffee.
How can roasters help?
If governments continue to improve global environmental standards and introduce sustainable initiatives for farming industries, it reduces many of the risks posed to coffee production.
It is vital that all who work in the coffee industry do their bit to preserve it and protect producing countries from future instability.
“It is critical that we understand that climate change is not an impending issue that we will eventually have to address,” Allie says. “It is happening now, and urgent action must be taken.”
She says the best action roasters can take is to provide financial assistance to their supplying farmers. “This can be in the form of higher prices, multi-year purchasing contracts, or designated funds for impact projects on the ground.”
These additional finances could help farmers make further investments on their farms and adapt to the changes caused by climate change.
“With higher, more consistent earnings, farmers may be able to plant coffee varieties that are more climate- and disease-resistant,” Allie says. “Furthermore, they could adopt practices that improve the health and regenerative capacities of the soil.”
Beyond offering financial support to farmers, roasters can also invest in coffee agricultural research and development through organisations such as World Coffee Research.
“Roasters can also work towards reducing the carbon footprint of their businesses, and advocate for climate change among their governmental representatives where possible,” Allie suggests.
Additionally, roasters can use their coffee bags to help educate customers about the impact of climate change at origin. This way, customers will understand the importance of supporting ethical and conscientious roasters.
It is clear that significant and swift action must also be taken by business leaders, policymakers, and consumers to protect coffee-growing for future generations.
For roasters and coffee shops, one of the simplest places to start is by switching to sustainable packaging.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable coffee packaging options, from side gusset bags to flat-bottom pouches. Roasters can choose from kraft paper, rice paper, PLA, and LDPE, all of which minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy.
We also offer recyclable degassing valves and resealable zippers, while all our inks are water-based and low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).