Climate and Coffee: Very tough years ahead

Photo by By Russ-L, Flickr (

Photo by By Russ-L, Flickr

Coffee, like most crops, will suffer (and in fact has already suffered) greatly from climate change. Temperature changes, increasing or decreasing rain with sporadic downpours, varying lengths of seasons… Needless to say, high quality, highly vulnerable Arabica coffee will not simply grow effortlessly on the rolling hills of a finca.

Growing coffee today is harder than it has been for most of the recent past, yet it could be as easy as it will get if we think about the near future and the changing climate that comes with it. Rust can ruin an entire crop. Too much rain can cause devastating soil erosion. Shorter and longer seasons alter the essential processes that give us those complex, addicting flavor notes of a good cup of coffee. And how about the people who grow our coffee? Coffee farmers face shrinking incomes, which only diminishes their capacity to adapt.
It’s not all bad news, of course. There are ways to use these challenges as opportunities to go back and think about the richness of our ecosystems.  Ecosystem services, and the payments that can accompany those services, are becoming the capital that allow farmers to not only protect the natural resources around them, but also to invest in the knowledge and infrastructure that increases the resilience of their crops. What this means is that we are taking a step back, and ceasing to take the valuable contributions of our ecosystems for granted. It’s exciting and intriguing to think about what will happen when we do so, and how introducing markets to “nature” in this way will alter our relationship with it. Lots more to say and reflect on that.

Here are some musings from around the web on coffee, climate, and adaptation:

– Is there enough collaborative research on coffee’s adaptation future? Unfortunately, no. 

– Can we envision a world without coffee when we drink about 1.6 billion cups of the stuff every single day? Hopefully we don’t have to, but changes to the plant and how it’s grown seem inevitable. For one, wild Arabica coffee plants might become extinct by 2080.

– Coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico are innovating! They’ve experienced lots of unpredictable rain, which is often damaging the coffee as it dries outdoors. Solution? Solar coffee dryers, which are being piloted by CESMACH.

– I think it’s essential to train coffee farmers to adapt to climate change. GTZ agrees, and has a very impressive training manual (in Spanish) that I’m looking through for inspiration and guidance.

– Beautiful photography and moving insight from Colombian coffee farmers in this video (Spanish):

Subiendo Dos Grados – cambio climático y cafe en Colombia

Farmer Training


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