Monday, June 26, 2017

Climate change could lower the quality of your coffee and Ethiopia could lose 60%

Your morning cup of coffee may not taste as good if climate change keeps pummeling Ethiopia, a study shows.

Story highlights

  • Rising temperatures cause coffee beans to ripen too quickly and lose complex flavors
  • By 2050, the global demand for coffee will double. But there will be half as much suitable land to grow it on
(CNN)What will it take for people to care about climate change? For some, the thought of a crummier cup of coffee in the morning just might do it.
A new study finds that Ethiopia, the world's fifth-largest coffee producer, could lose up to 60% of its suitable farming land by the end of this century because of climate change.
    The study, published Monday in Nature Plants, found the combination of low rainfall and rising temperatures could have substantial effects on the coffee-growing areas in the country.
    As temperatures steadily climb, so does the demand from coffee junkies, who might not be able to find a cup of joe that's up to their standards.

    What this means for coffee drinkers

    According to a report from World Coffee Research, the demand for coffee will have doubled by 2050, but the suitable land to grow it on will be cut in half.
    And the effects of climate change don't just lower how much coffee is produced -- they can also hamper its quality.
    In areas with lower temperatures, coffee quality is generally higher, World Coffee Research spokeswoman Hanna Neuschwander told CNN.
    Cooler temperatures allow the coffee to ripen more slowly -- and that means more time to develop more complex flavor elements like acidity and sweetness.
    But when temperatures rise, as they have slowly been doing in Ethiopia for years, the warmth causes the coffee to ripen too quickly, which means less flavorful beans.
    A shift in quality is the main difference consumers will see. Even though a decline in suitable farming land would logically lead to a decline in supply, Neuschwander said it's not likely that coffee drinkers will see any hike in price.
    Even if production drops in one country, such as Ethiopia, prices could drop at the same time in other major coffee-exporting countries, like Brazil or Vietnam, Neuschwander said.
    "It takes a lot longer for consumer effects to travel," Neuschwander said. "It's a very distorted market as a commodity market."

    What this means for Ethiopia's economy

    Coffee junkies may not see any big changes in price, but the impact on Ethiopia's economy could be huge.
    Arabica coffee production makes up about one quarter of the country's total export earnings. Fifteen million people, or 16% of the population, make a living through coffee farming.
    Ethiopia Coffee

    Ethiopia Coffee 01:43
    Most of those coffee farmers are smallholders, according to World Coffee Research. Smallholders manage modest, usually family-owned farms, which means they might not have the resources available to adapt to these climate changes. With less ability to adjust, they are more likely to stop growing coffee altogether.
    "The problem is coffee producers aren't paid enough, so helping them adapt to a very difficult complex, changing situation like you see with climate change and extreme weather events is very, very difficult to do," Neuschwander said.

    What this means for the environment

    Ethiopian coffee farmers have noticed climate changes that have harmed production, including warmer nights, a shorter wet season, irregular precipitation patterns and more extreme weather.
    And there's science to back up the farmers' observations: Research cited in the Nature Plants study shows an uptick in warmer days in various areas where coffee is grown.
    On top of the observable effects, Ethiopia's average annual temperature increased by 1.3 degrees from 1960 to 2006. That's a rate of .28 degrees per decade, and that average could push up temperatures another 3.1 degrees by the 2060s.
    Ethiopia has also seen big changes in precipitation. Since the mid-1970s, rainfall has decreased by 15% to 20% in the southern part of the nation, and droughts have become more common in all parts of the country for the last 10 to 15 years.
    None of this is great news for lovers of Ethiopian coffee, who may eventually want to look to other countries for their coffee fix.

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    Global warming brews big trouble in coffee birthplace Ethiopia | Environment | The Guardian

    Global warming is likely to wipe out half of the coffee growing area in Ethiopia, the birthplace of the bean, according to a groundbreaking new study. Rising temperatures have already damaged some special areas of origin, with these losses being likened to France losing one of its great wine regions.
    Ethiopia’s highlands also host a unique treasure trove of wild coffee varieties, meaning new flavour profiles and growing traits could be lost before having been discovered. However, the new research also reveals that if a massive programme of moving plantations up hillsides to cooler altitudes were feasible, coffee production could actually increase.
    Coffee vies with tea as the world’s favourite beverage and employs 100 million people worldwide in farming the beans alone. But climate change is coffee’s greatest long-term threat, killing plantations or reducing bean quality and allowing the deadly coffee leaf rust fungus to thrive. Without major action both in the coffee industry and in slashing greenhouse gas emissions, coffee is predicted to become more expensive and worse-tasting.
    The research combined climate-change computer modelling with detailed measurements of current ground conditions, gathered in fieldwork that covered a total distance of 30,000km within Ethiopia. It found that 40-60% of today’s coffee growing areas in Ethiopia would be unsuitable by the end of the century under a range of likely warming scenarios.
    But the study, published in the journal Nature Plants, also shows that major relocation programmes could preserve or even expand the country’s coffee-growing areas. “There is a pathway to resilience, even under climate change,” said Aaron Davis, at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the UK, who conducted the work with Ethiopian scientists. “But it is a hugely daunting task. Millions of farmers would have to change.”
    However, by 2040, such moves uphill will have reached the top of Ethiopia’s mountains. “It literally reaches the ceiling, because you don’t have any higher place to go,” Davis said.
    The impacts of global warming are already being seen as temperatures have been rising steadily in Ethiopia for decades. Farmers report a longer, more extreme dry season and more intense rain in the wet season, with good harvests much less frequent than in their parents and grandparents’ time.
    One famous coffee location likely to be lost is Harar. “In one area, there are hundreds if not thousands of hectares of dead trees,” said Davis. “It is a world renowned name and has been grown in that area for many centuries. But under all [climate change] scenarios, it’s going to get worse.
    “Some of the origins, what you would call terroir in the wine industry, will disappear, unless serious intervention is undertaken,” he said. “It would be like losing the Burgundy wine region. Those areas are found nowhere else but Ethiopia, and because of the genetic diversity, the diversity of flavour profiles is globally unique.”
    Both arabica and robusta coffee originated in Ethiopia and wild arabica plants are virtually unknown outside the country. The wild arabica varieties may well harbour traits for disease and drought resistance that could prove vital for the future health of coffee crops.
    Prof Sebsebe Demissew, from the University of Addis Ababa and one of the research team, said: “Coffee originates from the highland forests of Ethiopia, and it is our gift to the world. As Ethiopia is the main natural storehouse of arabica genetic diversity, what happens in Ethiopia could have long-term impacts for coffee farming globally.”

    A dried up river bed in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region reveals the effects of climate change.
     A dried up river bed in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region reveals effects of climate change. Photograph: Katy Migiro/Reuters

    The new research is a “brilliant piece of work”, according to Tim Schilling, chief executive of the World Coffee Research programme: “This is the only comprehensive, country-specific study I have seen that uses some of the best methods in climate modelling coupled to very rigorous ground-truthing – extremely useful for governments and industry and a model to be repeated.”
    Schilling led an expedition into South Sudan in 2013 to confirm wild arabica coffee was also present in the Boma forest: “What we found was major degradation caused by climate change on the forest and the wild coffee under its canopy. That is pretty much what I think we can expect if nothing is done to preserve the arabica genetic treasure chest in Ethiopia.”
    Schilling said new varieties and growing methods must be developed and that plantation “migration will have to be part of a plan B”. He added: “Plan C might be moving up in latitude and growing coffee in Southern France and Texas!” But he said funding all this is difficult when coffee producers are not making much money at present.
    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2014: “The overall predictions are for a reduction in area suitable for coffee production by 2050 in all countries studied. In many cases, the area suitable for production would decrease considerably with increases of temperature of only 2-2.5C.” It said that in Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee producer, a temperature rise of 3C would slash the area suitable for coffee by two-thirds in the principal growing states. In 2016, other researchers predicted climate change will halve the world’s coffee-growing area.
    “People should also be thinking about the millions of smallholder farmers who put their coffee on the table,” said Davis. “The coffee farmers of Ethiopia are really on the frontline [of climate change] – they are the people who will pay the price first. In the longer term, the only truly sustainable solution is to combat the root causes of climate change.”