In addition to rising sea levels and higher temperatures, global warming also has some less visible effects on the world.
While we focus mainly on how climate change affects us, we forget that a myriad of plant species around the world depend on stable climates. One such plant is coffee and unfortunately – the situation is less than ideal.
Climate change is the latest factor that’s threatening our beloved morning drink. How bad is the current state of the coffee market? Who is suffering the most? Let’s take a closer look at the entire problem.
Devastating damage to the coffee market
Due to rising temperatures on a global level, we are seeing some dramatic changes in the cosmos of coffee. According to one study published earlier this year, approximately 60% of all coffee species are in danger.
A total of 75 out of 125 different species of coffee are at risk of extinction. We’re not talking about a distant scenario in the future. This slow disappearance has already started taking place.
The current coffee market is dominated by two distinct varieties of coffee beans. Arabica is considered the better, rarer breed, whilst Robusta is low quality, but a more accessible solution.
They can be grown in controlled environments, but the problem stems from the vulnerability of wild species. Coffee strains that exist only in the wild are essential in terms of crossing different breeds and producing more high-quality varieties.
Global warming is just another factor that struck this gargantuan industry. Deforestation and evolving pests and bacteria have already taken a toll on a lot of plantations. What can we do to halt this path to the demise of coffee?
Diseases and pests are thriving
Scientists are urging the global coffee market to take steps such as stricter monitoring and widely applied seed preservation.
The problem with these plans is that it takes a lot of time to implement them on a scale that would halt the extinction process. If there aren’t changes in cultivation regulations and approaches, we might say goodbye to our steaming cups of liquid energy on Monday mornings.
Disease and pests are also launching an assault on coffee plantations. One particular pest, known as the coffee borer, thrives in warmer conditions and more humid environments. With climate changes in full swing, we are seeing higher temperatures and more rain in areas crucial for the growth of coffee.
South and Central America are also hit by a disease called “stem rust.” Its expansion from plantation to plantation can reduce coffee production by as much as 15%.
Rainfall is making things difficult
Climate change doesn’t include strictly global warming – it’s a series of meteorological shifts. Perhaps the most detrimental change to coffee is increased rainfall. With more abundant rain, two main problems are threatening the coffee market.
The first and most pronounced threat is mold. Too much moisture is bad for coffee beans, as mold can easily take them over. Increased rainfall almost always leads to beans of substandard quality, both in terms of size and potency.
Who is taking the biggest hit due to these changes?
Small farms are being decimated
The coffee we drink doesn’t come from large industrial facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. On the contrary – the global coffee market relies mostly on smallholder plantations that are two hectares or smaller. 70% of the entire coffee market depends on these farmers.
Can they industrialize and automate their process? Hardly. Small farms are present in high altitude areas, due to arabica beans needing high elevation to flourish. Transporting equipment is impossible due to a lack of resources and safe roads for trucks to go through. How about relocation?
That’s also out of the question. According to most experts on coffee, relocation is “a death sentence” to small farmers. Coffee plants need up to five years to reach a phase where they can produce coffee beans.
Planting new beans and hoping luck gives them plentiful harvests in implausible for the majority of coffee farmers. This climate change-induced trap is slowly decimating small scale production.
Consumers will feel the hit, too
Even though the situation is still unfelt by consumers, they might be the next in line to feel the threat of climate change. The coffee market is just like any other market. It survives on a consistent balance between supply and demand. Due to climate change, supply is slowly decreasing while demand is already experiencing growth.
First, coffee will become more expensive. The next wave of consequences will result in many South and Central American varieties disappearing. During the final stage of the coffee market deterioration, we will see only low-quality coffee being available. It will soon become a luxury reserved only for the most capable producers and the wealthiest consumers.
What can we do to save coffee?
Wherever there is a problem, humans are working hard to find solutions. Farmers in areas that are experiencing more frequent heat waves have adopted a simple, but effective method. To shield coffee plants, farmers are planting fast-growing and tall trees next to plants to shield them from the sun. Wide leaves of some species also shield coffee plants from heat.
For you and us, coffee might be a commodity. Several Latin American countries have economies that depend on coffee production and export. A number of governments have announced special budgets devoted to research on coffee protection.
There is a lot that retailers can do to boost and protect the coffee market. Starbucks, for instance, started working with small-scale farmers to provide fresh seeds and finance different protection strategies. It’s pleasant to see cooperation between two codependent parties that make up the coffee market.
The threat to the coffee market is real and it’s here. As consumers, we should continue to support small-scale farms and finance them in an effort to protect their plants. While it may seem it’s too late, consistent effort in the next few years can work wonders for everyone.