Coffee is under threat unless something is done

Global warming is likely to wipe out half of the coffee growing area in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee bean, according to a new research published  in Nature Plants.

Coffee production in Ethiopia is a longstanding tradition. Ethiopia is where Coffea arabica, the finest coffee plant, originally indigenous to the forests of the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia. Coffee makes up around a quarter of Ethiopia’s exports by value.

Sadly the effect of global warming could make between 40 and 60 percent of the country’s land become unsuitable for growing coffee.

Ethiopia alone accounts for around 3 percent of the global coffee market. Coffee is important to the economy of Ethiopia; around 60 percent of foreign income comes from coffee, with an estimated 15 million of the population relying on some aspect of coffee production for their livelihood.

In 2006, coffee exports brought in $350 million, equivalent to 34 percent of that year’s total exports.

Although a team of researchers from the United Kingdom and Ethiopia does not think all hope is lost, but saving the country’s coffee market is going to take some careful planning.

“We’ve been doing these studies for quite some time… most of the results were quite negative,” researcher Justin Moat from the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the United Kingdom told Gizmodo. “But the findings from this report show that there’s a large amount of area in Ethiopia in good conditions for coffee to be grown if we do something about it now.”

The coffee plant’s needs are simple: warm weather and rain. But humans are contributing to a changing climate by emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The consequences differ depending on the location, but most models show climate change resulting in a generally warmer, drier Ethiopia with less predictable seasonal weather patterns. Most of the country’s coffee comes from humid forests or shaded areas.

While Moat admits that all hope is not lost for now since there are lots of areas not currently farmed that could be resilient to climate change (especially areas at higher elevations), he noted that preparing for the future will take work.

“You can’t just move your coffee crop uphill. You may not own the land, and some areas with good climates don’t have the right ground conditions,” he said. “Some areas will need investment now to come in fruition later.” He’s suggesting that it’s time for some long-term investment to keep producing coffee in order to protect the people, environment and the country’s coffee industry.

Alessandro Craparo, Agroclimatologist International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Tanzania who was not involved with the study, agreed with that assessment. “Relocation and re-establishment of coffee farming would require substantial investment,” he told Gizmodo in an email.

Of course, the more we do to curtail our effects on the climate, the less work we’ll need to do to change crops relying on current climatic conditions.

Other experts thought the study’s models and conclusions made sense. Christian Bunn, researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, told Gizmodo that the conclusions weren’t really news to the coffee growing community, but was impressed by the model’s thoroughness. “It’s a state of the art study,” he said in an email.

There are caveats, however, as there are with any climate model. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about this,” Moat said. We know things are going to get worse, but now the question is how much worse. “Generally people want to see one answer. There is no one answer to these things.”