Coffee and climate have a complicated relationship

Wilston Vilchez, a third-generation coffee farmer in Nicaragua’s mountains, has been witnessing drastic climate change on his 25-acre coffee and cacao farm for years, but when two hurricanes struck within 15 days last year, he and many other farmers realised they needed to be part of the solution.

“They may be small farmers, but they believe in taking a stand that will benefit everyone,” he explained.

Vilchez, who also manages an agricultural cooperative of approximately 300 farmers, explained that the effects of climate change — rising temperatures, less predictable rainfall, wild swings from drought to flooding, and new pests — were making it more difficult for farmers worldwide to earn a living from coffee.

The focus of the negotiations has shifted to who will pay for all of these plans.
Investors make significant investments in the fight against climate change; some activists cast doubt on their motivations.
Numerous organisations and businesses are attempting to address these issues. They assist farmers in increasing production and efficiency by developing new bean strains, farming wild species, and even growing coffee in laboratories. Coffee production has a significant environmental impact — estimates vary, but one cup requires approximately 39 gallons of water, according to UNESCO’s Institute for Water Education.

However, according to those interviewed at these organisations and companies, as well as experts in the field, reducing glasshouse gas emissions is the best way to ensure the future of coffee as we know it (or something close to it) and the planet.

According to a 2014 study, even with modest reductions in glasshouse gas emissions, approximately 50% of land suitable for growing the two primary coffee species, arabica and robusta, which account for 99 percent of commercial supply, “could vanish by 2050.” Brazil and Vietnam, which are major producers, would be particularly hard hit.

To the billions of people who rely on coffee for survival (to put it mildly), this portends numerous difficult mornings and possibly rising prices. Climate change’s effects exacerbate an already precarious existence for the approximately 100 million coffee farmers, let alone the tens of millions who work in transporting, packaging, distributing, selling, and brewing coffee.

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