Will Organic Coffee Survive Climate Change?

We wrote recently about how climate changes will likely reduce coffee production and result in worse coffee at higher prices. We noted that arabica coffee plants will be more susceptible to ill effects from higher temperatures and that will be the reason for the likely lowering of coffee quality. Because organic coffee is generally arabica, that alone is a reason expect that climate change will probably result in less organic coffee. The bottom line question is this. Will organic coffee survive climate change?

How Climate Change Will Change Coffee Agricultural Systems

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the impacts of climate change on coffee growing systems will be sufficient to reduce yields in coming years. They note that environmental risks to coffee production include soil health deterioration, loss of biodiversity of coffee and related flora, fauna, and shade trees as well as pollution, extreme variability of rainfall and greatly increased stress from traditional and new coffee pests and diseases.

The amount of land suitable for growing traditional arabica and thus organic coffee plants will shrink as temperatures increase and local climates flip back and forth between excessive rainfall and draughts. The organic coffee farmer works continuously to preserve the ecosystem where he or she grows coffee and other crops and shade plants. A practical consideration that must be considered is that an organic coffee farm needs to be financially viable to survive. More work to maintain a sustainable organic coffee farm will cost more. If the market will not bear the extra cost, organic farmers may well convert to less expensive means of growing coffee including growing the hardier robusta variety by non-organic means.

Will Organic Coffee Survive Climate Change?

How Much Will Organic Coffee Production Suffer in the Coming Years?

A fair assumption is that as much of half of current coffee producing land may become uncultivatable for coffee by the middle of the mid to late 21st century. Extended periods of temperatures higher than 30 degrees Celsius will adversely affect flowering of the coffee plant. The same higher temperatures, when combined with higher humidity, will greatly increase risks from coffee plant diseases like leaf rust and pests like the coffee borer beetle. The use of fungicides and pesticides to fight these on non-organic land will adversely affect pollinators like the honey bee. Berries that do ripen will do so faster which generally leads to a lower coffee quality and yield.

Where Will the Effects of Temperature on Organic Coffee Be the Worst?

Climate scientists expect to see above 30 degree Celsius days increase from a low of 18 a year to a high of 56 a year with an average of 36 days within the coming years. Affected coffee growing areas will include the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America including Ecuador, Bolivia, the North of Peru, and the Bahia, Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná states of Brazil. In Africa Southwest Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Guinea can expect such higher temperatures. In the South Asia and East Indies region India, Sri Lanka, and two of the top four coffee growers, Indonesia and Vietnam will be affected.

Who Grows the Most Organic Coffee?

Latin America is responsible for three fourths of all organic coffee production. Three fourths of that production comes from Mexico. Thus, Mexico produces slightly more than half of all organic coffee. This may be a problem. Mexico is one of the countries most likely to see extreme temperatures in its coffee growing regions, an increase in pests and plant diseases, and a drastic reduction in land suitable for coffee cultivation. The primary coffee growing regions in Mexico are the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas in the south and Coatepec on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Chiapas and Oaxaca in the southern part of the country and Coatepec on the Gulf Coast. As an example, the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range runs parallel to the Pacific coast of Mexico and into Guatemala, and El Salvado. Its highest elevations run to 1,400 meters or 4,600 feet. This is the altitude at which Colombian coffee farmers are forced to plan leaf rust resistant strains while they plant the original arabica plants in the 6,000 to 8,000 foot range. The point is that the prime organic coffee growing regions in the biggest organic coffee producing country will be more prone to loss of ability to grow coffee than a country like Colombia where much coffee is grown at higher altitudes.

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