Climate Change & Coffee

Climate Change & Coffee

Help counter climate change... by drinking coffee?

...well by supporting speciality coffee actually. It makes all the difference, and this time, we're not just talking about the taste!

Most Wild Coffee Species, Arabica Included, Are at Risk of Extinction

Yes, our favourite drink will be wiped from earth unless we do something about it. Like with most plants, coffee is a climate-sensitive crop. Incredibly so.


Every 1°C rise in minimum temperature will result in annual yield losses of approximately 137 kg per hectare. For many farmers, this is over half of their annual crop -- this is something which not only impacts some of the most vulnerable people in the world financially in a very short term sense, but it will also have generations-long repercussions.


Many coffee-producing communities have very little else to turn to -- commodity grade coffee producers are already alarmingly underpaid as it is, education is a luxury, and the result of decimated coffee crops is sentencing them to a bleak future of descent into further poverty.


In case you didn’t know, by 2050 coffee demand is set to double, and as of 2015, coffee farmers are producing only 50% of the crop than they were even in 1960. Unfortunately, this trend isn’t slowing down either, and is largely due to an ageing producing population, and the effects of climate change.

 

Sometimes termed "moving up the mountain": As temperatures increase, coffee plants need to be grown at higher altitudes to be safe from leaf rust infiltration. We're running out of space!

What Exactly is Changing?

There is global evidence that increasing minimum (i.e. night-time) temperatures are having the hardest impact on the healthy growth of coffee cherries itself — not the maximum temperatures as one might initially assume. In the past, heat and drought stress were typically noted as the major constraints that affected coffee production. But specifically, it appears that steadily increasing night-time temperatures have actually been the greatest impact on plant health.

What Does Climate Change Mean for Coffee Farming?

“The innate metabolism of farmed coffee can and does adapt to a variety of climates and environs explains coffee scientist Allessandro Craparo of Beaver Creek Estate. However, there are other factors to consider beyond merely increasing temperatures. For instance Leaf Rust — coffee leaf rust, that is, naturally flourishes in heat and humidity, with 18-23C being an ideal temperature for this fungal parasite. Due to global warming – it is now increasing its range and severity: this is a primary cause of further compounding lower annual coffee yields in addition to drought and temperature.


The Biggest Fucker of Them All: A Close-up of Coffee Leaf Rust

Proposed Industry Solutions:

So how does this industry overcome such adversity? Succinctly: the age-old practice of breeding disease resistant crop cultivars. Though perhaps, easier said than done.


Whilst there are some governing bodies, and academics working in primary industries to research solutions, unfortunately, as coffee tends to be produced in developing nations -- and often in incredibly inaccessible locations -- the solution still falls on often woefully under-funded coffee farmers themselves. In such a situation, it's undeniably challenging for smart, disease resistant coffee crops to be developed compared to other crops (coincidentally grown in wealthier countries -- look at tulips, or watermelons by comparison).


Nevertheless, "there are ways to overcome the effects of climate change by improving farming method... Shade grown crops, for instance” elaborates Allessandro. Whilst Beaver Creek have the luxury of being relatively wealthy, and can afford to focus on pragmatic research, they are certainly no strangers to climate change -- indeed, they were forced to switch their farm crop from Banana's to coffee for that very reason. They have identified some key ways to farm smarter and combat the impact of climate change:

  • Breed more disease resistant coffee varieties
  • Improved farming practices i.e. monitoring night time temperatures, and adjusting seasonal planting times, crop location etc.
  • And perhaps most critically, better farmer and community education -- provided by higher, more equitable payment for farmers themselves, and funding of educational facilities and industry bodies to disseminate smart farming practices throughout the world of coffee producers.

So For Those Less Fortunate aka Not Horticulturalists?

As we've identified, simply put: coffee leaf rust aggravates poverty.


The SCA and WCR both, as proponents of sustainable, speciality coffee production, are instrumental in providing educational and financial resource, visibility to coffee producers and communities in need.


WCR in particular, as an aggregator for sustainable coffee leadership, does much work in terms of developing natural, implementable, and safe ways of combatting leaf rust, and partner with primary industry experts, scientists, and professors from universities.

Similarly and increasingly at risk indigenous coffees in Ethiopia, nevertheless offer a ray of hope: still-wild varieties of coffee may present clues as to how naturally occurring species have managed to overcome climate change via natural selection and evolution alone. The obvious use from such findings -- potential remedies derived from this research -- could be implemented in commercially grown cultivars.


One way which has been indicated by WCR is Classical Biological Control (aka CBC), which is an interesting topic unto itself: it involves either discovering and utilising mycoparasitic (natural predators of mushrooms/funghus — coffee rust in this instance) or Endophytic organisms to grow in symbiosis with the coffee and provide a natural degree of protection.

How Can Coffee Lovers Help?

As strange, and as simple, as it sounds -- you should actually drink speciality coffee. Why? Well, speciality grades are all grown to produce the highest tier of coffee -- this takes education, and meticulous practices, on behalf of the farmer, but pays off for them in the long run, literally. As we've highlighted before, better paid farmers ensures more work can be done in terms of researching and disseminating solutions to the effects of climate change. Consumption of coffee is not dwindling (only its potential supply) -- so we need to skew consumption preference towards premium, and speciality quality over commodity grades if we stand a chance.


Bonaverde partner with many of the farmers who have involvement with, or who have had support from WCR. WCR is a non-profit, so this is a manner in which they can get visibility, and be supported. All of the coffees in the Marketplace as such, are not just top-tier quality, but it’s of a type that further ensures a sustainable future for coffee production.

Finca San Vicente (whose owner José Armando overcame his own farm's leaf rust crisis) is an ideal example of using sustainable farming practices to overcome issues associated with climate change.

And the evidence is clear: this is one of the highest SCA scoring coffees we currently have in our Marketplace — a whopping 85.25 points — and the higher this score, the higher the farmer is paid. Demonstrating that sustainability leads to speciality and visa versa..

 

Bonaverde's vision is to alter the way coffee is consumed, perceived and traded world-wide. As part of the few proponents of the new 4th Wave of coffee, we've merged technology and consumption, which as Gunther Pauli addresses in his book Blue Economy, is an effective way to creating sustainable industry change.


HOW ARE BONAVERDE DOING THEIR BIT?

As a start, we've created a dedicated trading platform to support speciality coffees, where we hope one day farmers themselves will be able to directly trade with consumers for a brighter future. The future is nigh, with wallet-to-wallet transactions right over the horizon!