Coffee drinkers: Wake up and smell the climate change

Roasted coffee beans in a burlap sack

Climate change is causing some coffee-producing areas to become less suitable for the crop. (© F. Schussler/PhotoLink)

Your coffee is not immune to a changing climate.

Quite the contrary: Rising temperatures, drought and changing weather patterns are causing some major coffee-producing areas of the world to become less suitable for the crop. A new report by the Climate Institute shows that these effects of a changing climate have the potential to cut the world’s suitable coffee-growing area in half. How this will affect coffee production and coffee growers — including the more than 120 million who depend on the coffee economy for their livelihoods will vary by region. Here are some of the climate change impacts we could see by 2050.

1. Coffee-growing regions are changing.

Coffee growing area map, courtesy of Conservation international.


(Maps by Conservation International)

Coffee, like all agricultural products, depends on nature to thrive. It needs water — in fact, it is estimated the average cup of coffee takes 140 liters of water to grow. It needs soil that hasn’t been flooded, eroded or otherwise degraded. It also relies on steady temperatures — coffee is particularly sensitive to temperature increases, which reduce its growth, flowering and fruiting and make it more susceptible to coffee pests and diseases. But just as important, coffee relies on farmers —millions of people throughout the tropics. But since most coffee growers are smallholder farmers, their ability to adapt to climate change without outside help is limited.

“We are focused on addressing the intersection between the health of the environment and the viability of the millions of farmers who grow our coffee,” said Bambi Semroc, Conservation International (CI) coffee expert. “We know that both nature and people face great risks associated with a changing climate. But we also know that by working together across the industry, we can grow coffee in a way that protects forests, farmers and the long-term viability of the crop.”


Donate to help coffee farmers adapt to a changing climate.

2. Forced to expand, coffee farms could cause deforestation.

Coffee farms could cause deforestation.

(Map by Conservation International)

To meet the projected 50 percent to 150 percent increase in demand for coffee by 2050, supply will need to increase by 4 million to 14 million tons. Since 60 percent of suitable land for growing coffee is forested, and only 20 percent of that land is protected, the risk of deforestation to make room for new or expanded coffee farms is high. Forests are critical to combating the effects of climate change, and as native trees are cleared to make way for coffee farms, farmers and their crops could face increased climate change impacts. Today, the Andes, Central America and Southeast Asia face the highest risk of deforestation from coffee production.

3. Climate change could make coffee farmers move.

Map of Peru showing coffee growing area.

Map of Peru showing coffee growing area.

(Maps by Conservation International)

These maps of Peru show that land currently suitable for coffee production border important biodiversity hotspots. As suitable growing area decreases, the area left for cultivation overlaps the hotspots. If geneticists are unable to breed new varieties adapted to warmer conditions, or if practices that mitigate the impacts of climate change are unable to be implemented on farms, growers will be forced to migrate their plantations to cooler and more humid landscapes.

Further reading

Is there a sustainable future for coffee?

CI is leading a coalition of businesses and organizations working in the coffee sector — from farmers to retailers to countries — to grow coffee while ensuring the prosperity and well-being of farmers and conserving the environment. Called the “Sustainable Coffee Challenge,” the coalition is dedicated to ensuring coffee is the world’s first sustainable agricultural product.

A founding partner of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge is Starbucks, whose work with Conservation International has resulted in 99 percent of their coffee being sustainably sourced. The retailer is providing new trees to replace those affected by pest and disease outbreak across Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala through its “One tree for every bag” program. In another Challenge commitment, Dutch roaster Pelican Rouge is leading educational programs that provide new equipment for students and teacher training, as part of the Seeds for Progress program in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

These commitments and others to come are inching the world closer to a future where your morning cup doesn’t come at the expense of nature.

Learn more about the future of coffee in the short video below.

Sophie Bertazzo is a staff writer at Conservation International.

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  1. Jeanette S says

    *This comment has been edited for language*

    Maybe to save the world we should not be shipping coffee all over the world. This people should be growing FOOD for their OWN PEOPLE. They are chasing the almighty dollar; the problem to begin with. Expats with degrees that need management jobs are not my concern. Becoming more localized will save the earth, not this.

    Also consider this…in the environment long before humans and the motility thereof, people and animals would eat coffee, bananas, mangos and they would be redeposited right in the immediate vicinity, think what comes from the earth, goes back to the earth. All the nutrients being shipped out of the tropics that NEVER go back into that soil; the same nutrients that make more coffee beans, bananas, mangoes goes in landfills, via the sewage plant out to sea or at questionable best…a compost pile…at least the nutrients get back in the land somewhere, maybe not where it is needed though. It is the perfect set of nutrients…that is why the same set of nutrients needs to get back to the plants that need it. I am all for recycling food scraps in a tropical bucket and a bucket for the temperate plants. The tropical food scraps need to go back to the tropics. The boat brings the coffee and bananas. Can’t the ships take the compost back when they pick up more? Our livlihoods and very lives could depend on it.

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