Among the numerous foods threatened with extinction as a result of climate change, coffee is one of the most prevalent—and would likely be the most devastating, both for drinkers and producers. Coffee, with over 2.25 billion cups consumed daily, plays a significant cultural role and has transcended the status of a beverage. It is a source of energy, a community hub, a subject of connoisseurship, and an industrial behemoth produced largely by small-scale farmers. Around 120 million people worldwide rely on coffee for economic survival. With rising temperatures and shifting agricultural zones expected across the globe, Stacker examined the impact of climate change on the coffee industry.
While climate change threatens to make much of the land used to grow coffee uninhabitable, the coffee industry itself has a detrimental effect on the climate. To begin, 39 gallons of water are required to grow a single cup of beans. Monoculture coffee farmers continue to be largely responsible for deforestation, particularly of the world’s rainforests, which are critical for stabilising dangerous levels of CO2 and other glasshouse gases.
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As climate change threatens the future of coffee and vice versa, some growers and researchers have shifted their focus to more sustainable growth and production models. A technique known as agroforestry entails planting trees alongside coffee plants. This method provides shade and protection, enriches the soil with nutrients, and mitigates the harm caused by deforestation when land is cleared to plant dense rows of coffee trees in full sun. However, with some experts fearful that such measures will be too little, too late, the fate of coffee—and its millions of small-scale producers—is in jeopardy.
By 2050, researchers estimate, less land will be suitable for coffee cultivation.
According to a January 2022 study, roughly half of the land most conducive to coffee cultivation will disappear over the next 30 years as a result of climate change. Arabica, the most widely grown and beloved variety of coffee, is largely responsible for this. Arabica grows best in equatorial regions such as Central and South America, southern Asia, and Central and West Africa. Additionally, this variety is particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change.
As the climate in the “Bean Belt” continues to warm at an alarming rate, the average temperatures required for coffee tree growth—ideal Arabica’s temperature ranges between 64 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit—will become unsuitable. Other growth-related factors, such as elevation, soil pH and texture, the duration of the dry season, and rainfall levels, will need to be considered as farmers seek alternative growing locations.
As historic coffee growing regions fade away, new ones will emerge.
Increased temperatures in historically coffee-growing mountainous regions may encourage farmers to relocate higher up the mountains in search of cooler climates. It’s not easy to acquire a new piece of land for this purpose. Coffee trees mature in three to four years, at which point they produce berries (the seeds of which we call coffee beans), which means farmers may lose years of production if they need to find new land.
While moving to higher ground is a relatively quick fix for inhospitable growing conditions, it is also inherently limited: the amount of available land decreases as one gets closer to the mountain’s summit. Farmers will inevitably run out of growing space, a problem that could exacerbate the already disastrous practise of deforesting rainforests to make way for coffee farms.