Preventing a climate catastrophe

The majority of people cannot begin their day without a cup of coffee. To even begin opening their laptops and skimming through the profusion of fresh and always urgent emails, millions of people around the world require that first hot cup of coffee.

However, as consumers enjoy their Arabica with almond milk, the coffee industry is on the verge of collapse as it battles the ever-increasing threat of climate change. Will the coffee business be able to withstand rising global temperatures?

The coffee plant thrived in canopied tropical rainforests across the world long before people commodified coffee and established agricultural practises to produce coffee isolated in full sun (i.e. monocultures). After decades of growing coffee as a crop, reckless agricultural methods such as inadequate water management and reliance on hazardous fertilisers and pesticides — which emphasise output and profit over sustainability — have exposed the coffee industry to climate change.

Droughts become more often as temperatures rise, resulting in an increase in illnesses that kill the pollinating insects that are essential for coffee to flourish. However, the damage is not permanent, and a technique known as regenerative agroforestry might be the key to protecting the sector on which so many people rely.

Native trees and shrubs are purposely incorporated into farming systems to boost soil nutrients, foster biodiversity, and function as natural insecticides and herbicides for other flora within the system, which is known as regenerative agroforestry. Coffee plants flourish in wooded or shaded surroundings in their native condition, and reintroducing tall trees and plants to plantations simulates this natural habitat while retaining ideal plantation design for high-yield coffee farming.

Coffee plants maintained in intense shade have been shown to live for decades, according to studies. Not only does regenerative agroforestry provide excellent growth conditions because of the tree cover it provides. Native plant reintroduction encourages native bird and insect species to return to the habitat, reducing the threat of pests and weeds that would otherwise be addressed with chemicals that contaminate the ecosystem.

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