Demand for coffee could threaten last remaining intact tropical forests

Thanks to rising global temperatures, your morning coffee could become a driver of tropical deforestation in the near future.

According to a report released last week by Conservation International (CI), demand for coffee combined with the impacts of climate change could mean that coffee production will soon become a threat to the last remaining intact tropical forests and all of the services they provide, such as storing carbon, providing fresh water, and supporting biodiversity.

“Unless we act now, the trend of coffee production towards full sustainability may well be reversed,” Peter Seligmann, founder and CEO of CI, said in a statement. “The good news is that we know from our experience working with Starbucks and others that we can put the right practices in place to grow coffee in a way that protects forests and farmers – but we need to keep pushing these techniques to global scale.”

CI researchers found that, in order to meet growing global demand for coffee, the industry will have to increase production three-fold by 2050.

Unless coffee growers can make significant improvements to productivity on existing cropland, they will need to double the area under cultivation.That would mean the area of land being used to produce coffee would go from the size of Iceland to four times the size of Costa Rica, CI found.

Impacts of climate change, however, are expected to shift the elevation and latitude of prime coffee-growing land while reducing the overall amount of suitable land by as much as half. Per the report, the shifting of prime coffee-producing land due to climate change could push growers to move to areas currently covered by forest, some of which are intact and protected forests.

“We projected global coffee consumption into the future to better understand the potential volumes of coffee demand,” Tim Killeen, a lead author of the report, said in a statement. “[T]hen we modeled the climate requisites of coffee cultivation, in order show how coffee cultivation might shift to different landscapes and put new pressure on tropical forests.”

Killeen said that the ideal outcome would be that growers develop new varieties of coffee that are better adapted to the harsher conditions of the future while simultaneously improving the productivity of existing growing operations.

“That is a tall order, but not impossible,” he added. “If it doesn’t happen, then coffee production will shift to landscapes with conditions similar to today’s coffee growing areas.”

Tropical forests currently cover 60 per cent of the landscapes with climates suitable for growing coffee, which is expected to remain true in the future, even as coffee growing land shifts. But Killeen and CI’s team of researchers found that, by 2050, as much as 20 per cent of land suitable for growing coffee could lie within protected areas, particularly in the Andes, Central America, and Southeast Asia.

“The challenge over the next 35 years will be meeting the increased demand for coffee and conserving tropical forests while the area for suitable coffee growth migrates to higher altitudes and the overall area shrinks,” Bambi Semroc, senior strategic advisor at CI, said in a statement.

Eco-Business published this story with permission from Mongabay.

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