Coffee is grown in many parts of the world, including Latin America, Africa, Asia, and many more. However, the Latin American region is an excellent location for coffee cultivation, accounting for around 52 percent of global output. The region is home to five of the world’s top ten coffee producers, including the world’s No. 1 producer, Brazil, and Colombia, which is known for its high-quality beans. And the price of those beans is rising. Asia’s ever-expanding middle class is driving up consumption and placing pressure on Latin American coffee farmers to produce more.Total coffee output in the globe was 10.52Mn/Mt in 2020, with Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora) coffees dominating production (6.31 Mn/Mt and 4.22 Mn/Mt correspondingly in 2020), as indicated in the figure below.

Latin America accounts for around 52 percent of global coffee cultivation. The region is home to five of the world’s top ten coffee producers, including Brazil and Colombia. Asia’s ever-expanding middle class is driving up consumption, placing pressure on farmers to produce more.

Farmers in the area have long seen coffee as a viable source of income. Currently, the coffee business employs over 14 million people throughout Latin America. However, in recent years, climate change, pests, and falling coffee prices have combined to create a perfect storm that threatens the livelihoods of millions of producers and their families.

Small producers, particularly those with less than two hectares of land, are particularly hard hit. The return on their investment is progressively falling, prompting them to switch to other crops, forsake coffee totally, migrate to cities, or even relocate abroad.

COFFEE & CLIMATE CHANGE

The pattern is evident. And if we don’t act immediately, the damage could be irrevocable. According to climate change specialists, global temperatures will continue to rise this century, increasing by 1.5oC to 4.5oC in the hottest months. Scientists predict that we will experience longer and more dramatic spells of rain and drought, making farming even more difficult.

Coffee crops require precise temperature, light, and humidity levels to develop well, and those demands are best satisfied in Latin America’s so-called coffee belt, which encompasses countries between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.However, this is likely to change. Rising temperatures will restrict the area suitable for coffee cultivation by up to 50% by 2050. Meanwhile, some regions that are unsuitable for coffee cultivation may become a hospital for the crop. That might happen in Nicaragua, where researchers predict that by mid-century, the ideal height for coffee growth will rise from 1,200 meters above sea level to 1,600 meters.

SRI LANKA – THE PROBLEM’S ORIGIN IN THE 19th  CENTURY

Sri Lanka, a small island in the south of the Indian subcontinent, was a world coffee powerhouse in 1869, producing more than 45,000 tons per year. But all changed that year when the Hemileiavastatrix fungus swept across the island, causing coffee leaf rot, and destroying coffee crops. In less than 20 years, the fungus wiped out Sri Lanka’s coffee industry and spread throughout the world. It first arose in Brazil in 1970, then spread to Central America and Colombia.

Rising temperatures fuelled a huge coffee rust catastrophe in Central America from 2012 to 2013, where unprepared farmers lacked the know-how and means to stop it. Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala have all proclaimed states of emergency. In the end, more than half of the planted land was destroyed, and at least 350,000 jobs were lost. Rust cannot be cured, but it can be avoided. However, this is becoming more difficult as rising temperatures aid in the spread of the fungus.

WHERE MIGHT ARABICA COFFEE BE CULTIVATED IN 2050?

Because of the rising temperatures, coffee will be unable to be cultivated in some locations. This map depicts the expected changes in the viability of the Coffea arabica crop owing to climate change for the year 2050. The map below depicts potential coffee growing locations around the world by 2050 (Source: journals.plos.org)

WHAT IS THE COLOMBIAN SOLUTION? CHECK THE COFFEE’S DNA

Around 120 coffee plant species have been identified by researchers worldwide. However, we generally drink coffee from two species: Coffea arabica, also known as Arabica, and Coffea canephora, also known as Robusta. Arabica is sensitive to rising temperatures, prone to rust, and produces less beans. Robusta is more heat resistant, simpler to grow, and yields a larger, thicker bean.

However, when it comes to flavor, Arabica coffee is by far the most popular. Arabica now accounts for between 60% and 80% of global coffee production. Robust accounts for the remaining 20% to 40%. Climate change, on the other hand, is reducing Arabica output.

One remedy to this problem may be found in the coffee’s own DNA. In the 1960s, the National Federation of Coffee Growers’ research center in Colombia began producing coffee varietals that combined Arabica’s flavor with traits that made Robusta resistant to rust.

Cenicafe, the center’s name, created its first hybrid in 1980: a Colombian cultivar that mingled Caturra with another Timor type. Because the rust fungus has changed over time, Cenicafe has created new types that are resistant to the fungus. They released the Castillo variety in 2005, and the Cenicafe 1 variety in 2015.

“These kinds offered by the National Federation of Coffee Growers have a balanced flavor and are more resistant to rust” said Laura Sanchez, who works at the El Ocaso coffee estate in Colombia, located around 1,780 meters above sea level between the Quindo mountains.

IS COFFEE PRICES ARE FAIR ENOUGH TO SUSTAIN THE INDUSTRY??

The graph below demonstrates how global coffee prices have evolved over time, according to Inter American Development Bank research on “The Most Unexpected Effects of Climate Change.”