Thoughts on the future of coffee

2022-08-02 0 By

Under mild climate change scenarios, the world could lose half of its best coffee growing areas.Brazil, by far the world’s largest coffee producer, will see a 79 percent reduction in the amount of land best suited to growing coffee.That’s a key finding from a new study conducted by Swiss scientists that assessed the potential impact of climate change on coffee, cashews and avocados.All three are important globally traded crops and are produced mainly by smallholder farmers in the tropics.Coffee is by far the most important, with projected revenues of $460bn (£344bn) in 2022, compared with $13bn for avocados and $6bn for cashews.While coffee is primarily used as a stimulant beverage, avocados and cashews are widely consumed food crops that are rich in monounsaturated vegetable oils and other beneficial nutrients.The main message of the new study is that predicted climate change could lead to a significant reduction in the amount of land suitable for these crops in some of the prime areas where they are currently grown.That, in turn, could affect growers and consumers around the world.Coffee requires a complex combination of climate, soil and soil conditions.(Gruter et al. /PLOS, CC BY-SA) To date, most research on the future effects of climate change on food has focused on wheat, corn, potatoes and oilseeds, the major food staples grown in temperate regions.This reflects the tendency of climate scientists to focus on the potentially serious impacts of climate change on temperate ecosystems, particularly due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns.By contrast, less work is being done on tropical ecosystems, which make up about 40 percent of the world’s land area, where more than 3 billion people make a living, with up to 1 billion more expected by the 2050s.Moderate climate change may shrink land suitable for coffee cultivation (Gruter et al. / PLOS, CC BY-SA) The tropics also maintain vast reservoirs of biodiversity, as well as areas where many important crops are grown that provide income and food for their large populations.The new study confirms and significantly extends the results of a relatively small number of existing studies on coffee, cashews and avocado crops.An important innovation of the study was to examine land and soil parameters, as well as purely climatic factors such as temperature and rainfall patterns.This allows them to get a more nuanced understanding of future impacts that could significantly alter the suitability of certain crops in certain tropical regions due to changes in soil pH or texture, for example.The new study adds to other recent research on oil palm.Although controversial and often linked to deforestation, oil palm remains one of the most important tropical crops in terms of human nutrition, helping to feed more than 3 billion people.My colleagues and I recently reviewed several modeling analyses of how climate change affects oil palm disease incidence and overall mortality.The clear conclusion is that tree mortality is likely to increase significantly after 2050, possibly wiping out much of the crop in the Americas.In addition, the incidence of major stem rot is expected to increase dramatically throughout southeast Asia.Taken together, these studies are beginning to reveal the surprising extent and complexity of the effects of climate change and related factors on some of the most widely grown crops in the tropics.Importantly, the effects will not be evenly distributed, and some regions may even benefit from climate change.For example, parts of China, Argentina and the United States could become more suitable for growing coffee, just as countries like Brazil and Colombia have seen their land become unsuitable for growing coffee.Despite the disappointingly slow response of global leaders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many of these changes are now likely to be “locked in”, at least for the rest of the century.It is therefore necessary to adapt to the changes that are taking place in the tropics, for example by shifting the cultivation of specific crops to different regions with more moderate climate impacts.However, it seems likely that many tropical crops will become scarcer and thus more expensive in the future, whatever mitigation measures are taken.In the case of coffee, it may even be transformed from a cheap everyday drink to a precious delicacy to be enjoyed on special occasions, just like fine wine.