Threats of climate change to the global coffee sector

A hot cup of coffee is our usual jolt to awakening to the frenetic of daily life. But climate change might make it expensive or difficult to obtain. In an interview with Time Magazine in 2018, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said, “Make no mistake climate change is going to play a bigger role in affecting the quality and integrity of coffee.”

Global warming, deforestation, disease, and pests are contributing to the impact. The environmental implications apart, coffee is a multi-billion-dollar-industry supplied chiefly by small-scale farmers of Africa- who are more vulnerable to its effects than others.

How does Climate Change Impact Global Coffee Sector?

Coffee plants are grown in more than seventy countries worldwide and hence thought to be sturdier. But it requires specific climatic conditions to thrive- especially Arabica coffee. A recent study on the global climate change impact predicts that the area under cultivation for coffee will be reduced to half from present levels and much of the loss will be in regions cherished by coffee aficionados worldwide.

Rising temperatures, erratic rain, and prolonged dry seasons directly threaten the sustainability of coffee plants and consequently affect the livelihood of coffee farmers and communities who get caught up in these unpredictabilities, take up adequate preparations for the challenges in front of them and manage their operations profitably.

Around seventy percent of the world’s coffee produced by small landholdings is rain-fed and moreover, the timing and duration of rainfall are also critical in triggering flowering and seed development. If too much, rainwater can also be damaging to the development of coffee plants and soil stability, causing problems for coffee plants and the surrounding environment.

Water availability is also critical post-harvesting as, globally washed coffee is still higher is demand than dried coffee. Developments in processing technology have made considerable reduction in water used for washing coffee, but it is mostly out of bounds for many small-scale farmers and buyers too do not pay much value for water conservation.

Many farmers who depend on rainfall to irrigate their coffee plants also rely on the sun to dry the coffee after it has been picked. Without mechanical driers, the drying process could take days or weeks for worse, and delays may put pressure on farm infrastructure.

where drying space is at a premium. Taste and quality can also be affected by inconsistent processing and drying thereby effecting farmer income. Finally, along with erratic rainfall and rising temperature poses a favorable condition for pests like coffee leaf rust and coffee borer beetle.

Economic Risks of Global Coffee Trade

Even if the climate is kind enough to be cooperative at every stage of growing, harvesting, and processing of coffee, climate change can still impact on the viability of coffee farming. With the global climate showing erratic changes with extreme weather conditions like hurricanes being common can damage coffee export infrastructure and delay coffee export and shipments.

Climatic events like El Nino have a devastating effect on small-scale agricultural producers who strive with limited savings and with no access to credit to recover after a bad harvest. When uneven rainfall patterns prompt disruption in flowering and cherry growth cycle on coffee trees, it increases the labor input thereby labor costs.
With sustaining a threat on coffee (and income) to risks like coffee leaf rust, farmers may have to purchase herbicides and chemical fertilizers that they had not anticipated. Increasingly unpredictable costs might prompt farmers to look for other sources of income, which may result in a reduced supply of coffee globally.

Pondering over questions like has the climate changed, is it still changing or will it continue to change is not what is for discussion, but what we should be doing, as an industry, to ensure that coffee production survives and thrives even during this challenging times.

Seeking Solutions

With respect to multi-dimensioned issues like climate change, cooperation, flexibility, and innovation from every member of the supply chain are quintessential. All companies can take hold of their situation by keenly measuring, reducing, and offset the greenhouse gas emissions generated by their operations to slow down the effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, adaptation to climate change should not be left alone on the shoulders of farmers, but also with the successful adaptation of climate change mitigation strategies locally as well as globally. Coffee stakeholders, as well as coffee-producing nations, should invest more in research, training, and adoption of clean strategies from the grass root levels.