In January this year, a research paper was published examining the predicted impact of climate change on three important cash crops: coffee, cashew, and avocado. These crops were chosen as they share some key attributes. They are crops which require longer term planning, (rather than annually sown), and they each require specific climates to be successfully grown. Climate, rather than soil or land type, is highly important to these crops, and this makes them interesting for climate-change researchers to study.
Given how important the global coffee crop is to the world, there has been surprisingly little research done on how climate change is impacting coffee growers and processors. We chat with farmers every day and we hear about it, and see it when we travel to the farms, and we can see it in action now. At the time of writing, we are feeling the effect of unseasonal rain in Nariño, Colombia. The trees haven’t had the long, dry, and moderately warm spell they need while the cherry has been developing. The farmers are struggling to process the crop and we are finding it difficult to get enough coffee to buy. For farms that rely on coffee and have no diversification, this is a serious problem. Colombia is fortunate in a way though, as their coffee federation acts as a buyer of last resort; so, if a farmer can get any crop in, no matter the quality, there is a buyer in the market at least.
Climate change is already having a large and meaningful impact on coffee growing and there is more to come. It is estimated by the authors of the paper that by 2050 there will be 50% less land suitable for growing coffee. Outside of localised weather problems we are already seeing some lower altitude farms start to struggle and higher altitude areas become viable.
On the farms mitigation planning is currently approached in three ways 1) cultivar development, 2) farm management techniques, and 3) land conversion. The roasting industry will have work to do too. We will need to be able to help support farms as they move to more resistant cultivars, change processing techniques, and rejuvenate their farms. Along the way, some farmers will leave coffee and move to other crops to which their climate becomes more suited, and we will discover new farmers to work with who move into coffee. This is land conversion in action.
Now in Brazil, we are entering winter and so the frost risk adds a layer of complexity. You may recall last year in July (August 2021 Newsletter) there was a significant frost where many farmers lost a good proportion of the crop. This year, to help mitigate the threat to young trees and new growth, many farmers, even those outside of the traditionally risky areas, are wrapping their trees in thermal protection. Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer and what happens to its crop really matters. It’s terrific to see the work that has been done at the end of the last crop to get their farms ready for the winter. It’s a great example of the changes in farm management now required.
The research paper, if you want to read it is – Expected global suitability of coffee, cashew, and avocado due to climate change by Roman Gruter, Tim Trachsel, Patrick Laube, and Isabel Jaisli (Published by Plos One, 2022) you can find it at https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0261976. Reading it has been profound. We hear about climate change and the future challenges a lot but reading about the predictions for coffee and other crops makes one realise that in our lifetimes the way coffee is grown and processed will change dramatically.
Next month we will look at cultivar development for climate resistance and talk about some of the work being done in research and on the farms.