How global warming will hit the coffee market, according to scientists

Study predicts how speciality coffee production could be particularly affected in Ethiopia

Vishwam Sankaran
Friday 16 April 2021 13:47
Cup of coffee on tasting bar of the Coffee Factory, Turin, Italy
Cup of coffee on tasting bar of the Coffee Factory, Turin, Italy

The ongoing climate crisis, induced by global warming, may adversely affect the international coffee market, says a new study.

According to scientists, including those from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, climate change may harshly affect parts of Ethiopia, one of the world’s largest producers of the Arabica coffee, shrinking the area in which the speciality beverage crop is grown, and affecting the country’s economy.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, noted that this crop has a relatively higher demand across the world making up over 70 per cent of the global coffee market, and Ethiopia is the world’s third largest producer of the beverage crop following Brazil and Colombia.

While earlier studies had assessed the impact of climate change on coffee production, the researchers, including Abel Chemura from PIK said the effects on the Arabica variety was less understood until now.

Based on earlier research, the scientists said Arabica coffee grows in very specific climatic conditions, and coupled with its narrow genetic diversity, they added that it is likely to be affected more by climate change.

“These biophysical impacts eventually impinge on the livelihoods of 25 to 30 million smallholder coffee farmers who produce the majority of the world’s coffee,” the study noted.

In the current study, the scientists applied machine learning tools to predict how 19 different factors, including mean temperatures and rainfall levels, may affect the cultivation of five distinct specialty coffee types, shedding light on how local regions and economies that rely on coffee cultivation would be affected in the future by the climate crisis.

According to the study, while 27 per cent of the country is “generally suitable” for coffee, only up to 30 per cent of this area is suitable for specialty coffees.

The country’s coffee production is already threatened by extreme levels of precipitation, insects and fungal diseases as earlier studies have shown.

And while the current research found a “net gain” in coffee production suitability under climate change in general in the country, the analysis revealed potential losses in five out of the six specialty coffee growing areas.

The researchers noted that about half of the current specialty coffee growing areas of Ethiopia could be significantly altered by climate change with effects on production and local society.

If the trend continues, the scientists caution that the losses in the production potential of specialty coffee may lead to losses in these specialty markets with coffee moving into generic quality profile categories.

They said this may in turn make it difficult for farmers to continue viably producing the Arabica coffee since they would now not be able to compete with industrial generic coffee production systems – a change that may impact the coffee market both locally and internationally.

To mitigate these risks, the scientists suggest that in places growing coffee types sensitive to global warming effects, enhanced agroforestry systems can help regulate canopy temperature, while also underscoring the importance of irrigation for crops which depend heavily on rainfall.

“We conclude that depending on drivers of suitability and projected impacts, climate change will significantly affect the Ethiopian speciality coffee sector and area-specific adaptation measures are required to build resilience,” the scientists wrote in the study.

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