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  • Writer's pictureGrant Foad

Climate & Coffee: Growing Stomach, Shrinking Belt

Coffee. Ever heard of it? If you’re an American, there’s a 63% chance that you drink it every day, and a staggeringly large percent thereon that within that 24-hour timeframe, you drink 3 or more cups. Suffice to say that this caffeine-filled beverage is a significant aspect of life in the United States and globally. But, for such an impactful morning pick-me-up, very few consumers are actually attuned to the complexities of the coffee lifecycle and markets, nor are they aware of the risks that coffee as a commodity is currently facing from climate change and dwindling market economics. 


In Part I of a three-part article, we provide a snapshot of the science behind coffee’s shrinking viability in a shifting global climate.


 

Latitudinally, coffee is grown in a region widely referred to as the “Coffee Belt,” or rather the band of tropics circumnavigating the Earth roughly between the Tropic of Cancer at the northernmost end and the Tropic of Capricorn at the southernmost. 



Within this region, there are two primary species of coffee grown: Coffea arabica (Arabica), growing optimally between 64°–70°F (18°C–21°C), and Coffea canephora (most commonly referred to by one of its key varieties, Robusta), growing optimally between 60°–75°F (16°C–24.1°C). With a smooth taste and sweet flavor, the former species is what the vast majority of Americans are accustomed to drinking. In fact, Arabica production accounts for nearly 60% of global coffee output today, and is expected to increase as demand for this species (and coffee as a whole) continues to rise. 


The growing success of Arabica and the overall coffee economy, however, lies in stark contrast to the reality of the world’s shrinking coffee-growing area. According to a recently produced Sachs article, “by 2050, almost 20% of the coffee belt will have warmed by more than 4-degrees Celsius. At this level, yields will decrease on average by 10%, by 2050, globally. By [the same year], 75% of the land used for Arabica-grown coffee will be at risk of becoming economically unviable.” Increases in temperature are already resulting in farmers experiencing issues with regards to pests, disease, reduced yields, and inferior bean quality.


Although it may seem a fruitful idea, a switch to growing Robusta is not necessarily the simple answer to this crisis. Even with a larger optimal temperature range, studies have shown that “every 1°C increase in mean minimum/maximum temperatures above 16.2/24.1°C corresponded to yield declines of ~14% in Robusta coffee.”


One of Everoot’s recent clients within the space, coffee importer Cafe Imports, summates the message quite simply within their 2023 Progress Report:

“Coffee is an environmentally taxing agricultural product in which to work, and that impact is created and felt at every link along the value chain. Rain, wind, and temperature patterns have changed dramatically over the past few decades, which causes confusion and complications both on the farm and beyond. As harvest seasons shift, so does a farmer’s ability to get credit, to hire labor, to find space at the mill, to navigate fluctuating prices on the market. Exporters contend with receiving late samples, and with congestion at the ports. Importers scramble to cover late deliveries, quality issues caused by changes to a farm’s terroir or the drying environment during processing. No one goes untouched or unaffected by the ways the climate is changing, period.”

How large, then, is the role that finances play in the complex calculation of building environmental resilience in the coffee industry? Be on the lookout for Part 2 of our short series on Coffee & Climate to learn more.




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