Trouble percolating as climate change named coffee’s biggest adversary


Hold on to your mugs, coffee lovers, your daily dose of caffeine might be in danger.
According to a new report from Fairtrade and The Climate Institute, the world’s coffee supply is facing risks due to climate change.

With ongoing studies showing that the average global temperature rising by 1°C since 1850, and projected to warm another 2.6°C to 4.8°C by 2100, there is a reason for concern. While these numbers might seem marginal, the impact on coffee growth and production hangs in the balance as even half a degree can negatively affect coffee yield, flavor, and aroma.

This change hasn’t gone unnoticed by major industry leaders within the coffee industry, such as Jim Hanna, Starbucks Director of Environmental Affairs, and Mario Cerutti, Lavazza Green Coffee & Corporate Relations Partner. Both men released statements used within the report.

“What we are really seeing as a company as we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road — if conditions continue as they are—is a potentially significant risk to our supply chain … If we sit by and wait until the impacts of climate change are so severe that is impacting our supply chain then that puts us at a greater risk,” Hanna said.

Cerutti said the situation is “dramatically serious.”

“We have a cloud hovering over our head. Climate change can have a significant adverse effect in the short-term,” Cerutti  said. “It’s no longer about the future; it’s the present.”

However, it isn’t just companies who are being affected. In fact, it is the growers and producers who are facing more adverse effects of climate change.

The world’s coffee belt, which includes Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Ethiopia, has 25 million farmers (mostly smallholders) and 125 million livelihoods reliant on profitable crops. In addition, the increasing temperatures in these areas have also introduced threats such as Coffee Leaf Rust (Hemileia vastatrix) and the Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus hampei).

Coffee Leaf Rust is a plant disease that has plagued coffee farms in Central America, affecting more than 50 percent of crops. Damages reported during 2012-13 totaled $500 million and left 350,000 Central American laborers without work. The Coffee Berry Borer, a pest with origins in the Congo, has spread to coffee regions such as Tanzania, Uganda and Indonesia, causing an excess of $500 million in damages annually.

So, what does this mean for the future of this $19 billion trade and the consumers who, together, consume 2.25 billion cups of coffee on a daily basis?

If the risk remains prominent, consumers can expect to see higher prices in the future as that will help companies and farmers shoulder the increasing financial burden of the commercial coffee infrastructure.

Many companies and governments are recognizing the issues with global warming and are looking for ways to reduce the threat and create adaptive farming efforts. Companies such as Fairtrade have set up The Fairtrade Carbon Credits initiative which “aims to empower farmers and both cut emissions and raise their resilience to climate change.”

The average coffee lover can help too by learning the risks facing coffee producers, becoming familiar with brands that give back to farmers and their communities, and demanding for more action by companies and governments to ensure a better future.

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