Brazil Frost Hits Coffee, Prices Soar to New Heights

A frost that occurred in the last weeks of July 2021, has struck a blow to the coffee-producing regions of Brazil, damaging trees and harming prospects for next year’s crop. The sudden drop to sub-zero temperatures has caused defoliation of crops and even killed the youngest plants that are critical for future harvests.

Brazil had suffered a serious drought earlier this year. That was followed by the damaging frosts at many plantations in Minas Gerais- a southeastern Brazilian inland state that produces 70% of the nation’s Arabica beans.

Arabica has been seriously impacted because of its biennial plant cycle, by which low-yield production in one year is succeeded by a bumper crop the next year. The frost has caused damage of an estimate of 5 to max 8million bags for crop 22/23. It was expected to be a bumper crop and with damage, it may be around 57-60 million bags.

On average Brazil produces nearly twenty-five million 60kg sacks of coffee which accounts for approximately 25% of the world’s coffee supply. Hence any change that affects production can reduce or completely wipe out much of the world supply in a matter of a day.

Simultaneously, demand for coffee is picking up this year as the global economy has started to re-open after the pandemic. This has stirred up demand for Arabica which is mostly used in coffee shops and restaurants, unlike Robusta which is mostly used for making instant coffee granules.

Courtesy: Financial Times

Climate Change and Coffee

There has been no greater existential crisis to coffee than climate change. It is disrupting weather patterns. Coffee grows best in predictable weather such as distinct rainy and dry seasons. Global warming is altering these weather conditions, causing floods, frost, and droughts to early than usual rains. This can lead to inconsistent cherry maturation, extending harvest, and making it harder to pick crops at their ideal ripeness.

As areas suitable for coffee production dwindles with climate change, some researchers suggest shaded plantations. The solution is already put to practice to preserve forest and their biodiversity and can also be used as a solution to increasing temperatures and pest attacks.

Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee is witnessing strenuous efforts to save coffee. The country with more than 95% of the species genetic diversity will offer more options for adapting to climatic variations.

Climate change has the potential to increase retail coffee prices, as well as pose a grave threat to the welfare of millions of small-scale farmers worldwide. More ways have to be explored to sustain coffee production, the farmers who supply it and keeping the beverage affordable to the rest of the world.