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Climate change threatens your cup of coffee as soon as 2020

Areas suitable for coffee growing will decrease substantially by as soon as 2020 due to climate change impacts in major producing countries, a new report warns.

“The situation is alarming,” said the Coffee Barometer 2014, produced by a group of environment and development organisations including Oxfam-Novib, Hivos and WWF. Severe droughts, like that in Brazil this year, warmer temperatures or heavy rains make the coffee harvest season increasingly unpredictable, it said.

Erratic temperatures and rainfall can affect coffee plants directly, making it harder for them to grow, as well as indirectly by providing favourable conditions for pests and diseases such as the berry borer and coffee rust, which has hit Central America and Colombia hard in the past three years.

“These changes affect yields and quality, and increase production costs, leading to drastic reductions of producer income,” the report noted. Most vulnerable are poor households with small coffee landholdings, as they usually depend on the crop and have few other ways to earn a living.

“For many smallholder coffee farmers, climate change impacts are already outpacing their ability to cope,” the biannual report said.

Demand up, production threatened

The threat to production comes at a time when demand for coffee beans is rising. World coffee consumption is growing steadily at around 2.5 per cent per year, with the fastest pace in emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Asia and coffee-producing countries themselves.

Demand is expected to reach 165 million bags in 2020, which would require an increase of around 15 per cent in green bean production over the next five years, the report said.

The effects of climate change are likely to make that target difficult to reach. Brazil, Guatemala, Tanzania and Vietnam are already suffering from climate change impacts, and are expected to experience changes in the suitability of their coffee cultivation areas, the report said.

The industry has to take more responsibility to invest collectively in the climate adaptation process, and ensure effective and long-term support for coffee farmers in all producing countries

Sjoerd Panhuysen, lead author of the Barometer

In Uganda, climate change mapping shows that areas suited to Arabica coffee will reduce drastically in the future.

Increased pressure on the world’s land resources limits the prospects for expanding areas under coffee cultivation. A more sustainable solution is to produce more coffee per unit of land, water and agrochemicals, the report said.

Building resilience to climate shifts is the most significant challenge facing coffee farmers, it added.

Industry responsibility

“The industry has to take more responsibility to invest collectively in the climate adaptation process, and ensure effective and long-term support for coffee farmers in all producing countries,” said Sjoerd Panhuysen, lead author of the Barometer.

The world’s top 10 coffee manufacturers include Nestlé, Mondelez, DE Master Blenders, Smuckers, Strauss, Starbucks and Tchibo.

Certified labels, such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Organic and UTZ, say they are working to overcome many of the unsustainable aspects of coffee production. In 2013, sales of sustainable coffee grew to 15 per cent of total consumption.

But the report points out that only a quarter of certified and verified coffee is sold as such, even though the volume available of such coffee accounts for 40 per cent of global production.

Edwin Huizing, Hivos’ executive director, urged the top ten coffee roasters to increase demand for sustainable coffee and to communicate transparently on the volumes purchased.

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