If a future of relentless fires, droughts, superstorms and rising sea levels makes you feel like you need a strong caffeinated beverage, there is some bad news: climate change is coming for the world’s coffee beans.
Greg Meenahan, the partnership director at the non-profit institute World Coffee Research,
puts it this way: “Demand for coffee is expected to double by the year
2050 and, if nothing is done, more than half of the world’s suitable
coffee land will be pushed into unsuitability due to climate change.
Without research and development, the coffee sector will need up to 180m
more bags of coffee in 2050 than we are likely to have.”
To address this, the organisation is undertaking the international
multi-location variety trial, testing 35 coffee types across 23
countries to measure performance in different climates – including in
regions not typically associated with coffee production, such as
In what could be Australia’s most significant contribution to coffee since the flat white, scientists at Southern Cross University will be testing 20 “climate-resistant” varieties.
Prof Graham King, a leading plant science researcher at SCU, says
that in January up to 900 plants will be planted at the tropical fruit
research station in Alstonville, northern New South Wales. According to
King, climate change is expected to devastate the world’s major
coffee-growing regions through extreme weather and by increasing attacks
by crop pests and diseases.
“Many current mountainous tropical production areas of the world are
likely to become untenable for coffee as climate change progresses,” he
says. “Within Australia we currently have the benefit of no coffee rust
or cherry borer, or other major pests and disease. This is quite unique
compared with most production areas of the world.”
The impact is already being felt. As detailed in a 2016 report by Fairtrade Australia, in 2012 Central America was hit by a wave of coffee leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix)
after unusually high temperatures and high-altitude rains, causing
US$500m in crop damages and putting nearly 350,000 labourers out of
Droughts and frequent storms have led to Costa Rican farmers giving up coffee for orange plantations. Outside Latin America, the coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei)
– which used to only appear at a maximum altitude of 1,500 metres above
sea level – is being found above this limit, thanks to unseasonably hot
conditions and higher rainfall on plantations from Tanzania to
Indonesia. On Mount Kilimanjaro plantations, the beetle is now found 300
metres higher than last century.
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