Scratch that: the global coffee crisis is already here. If you thought the year of the apocalypse wasn’t bad enough already, try to imagine it without a strong Cup o’ Joe for support. Whether you drink coffee or not, this crisis has far-reaching implications, and is worth talking and learning about.
Did you know?
- Nearly 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year.
- It’s cultivated by nearly 25 million farmers around the world, who rely on it to make their livelihoods.
- Coffee a notoriously picky plant, and it requires very specific conditions in order to grow.
I bet you did know that climate change is causing countries around the world to heat up – including the dozens of countries in which all those farmers are cultivating everyone’s favourite bean. As human-driven climate change warms up territories from Latin America, to Africa, to Asia, the amount of land suitable for growing coffee is shrinking. All the while, our demand for it increases.
What do coffee plants want?
There are two main varieties of coffee: Robusta, and Arabica. While Robusta is bitter and used to make things like Espresso, it’s smoother cousin, Arabica, is everyone’s favourite and produces the milder flavour and smooth quality so many of us are addicted to.
Arabica coffee, though requires the narrow temperature window of temperatures between 18 and 21 degrees celsius. When it’s too hot or too cool, berry production suffers. It’s also finicky about the amount of rain it wants – and it likes its dry season to be a certain length. Finally, it prefers to grow in areas with warm days and cool nights, which means it grows best at a particular elevation.
According to Sam Ellis at Vox, “if you were to create a perfect place for it, it would look a lot like Columbia”. Columbian coffee has been considered the best in the world for decades for good reason. Now, though, their coffee production is at risk as farmers are forced to grow other crops instead.
What’s the problem?
With climbing temperatures, the optimum zone of elevation for Columbian coffee plants has moved further up the mountain, making it smaller and harder to access. Furthermore, it’s not possible for all farmers to shift their entire operations further up a mountain or replace all their plants with more robust varieties – which are both costly to do. As such, they’re left with farms that, formerly perfect, now produce inferior quality beans. In addition, changing weather patterns are making it increasingly difficult for farmers to predict the lifecycles of these picky plants.
According to Ellis, the amount of land available for coffee production in Columbia has fallen by about 7% since 2013, and as temperatures continue to climb, the situation is only expected to worsen. These days, Columbia is only the third largest coffee exporter in the world, but the challenges it’s farmers are facing are mirrored in other coffee-producing nations across the world.
It’s not only the unpredictable weather and the decreasing space and available for coffee production that’s causing the global coffee crisis, either. Farmers have struggled for decades to deal with the supply and demand imbalances that were caused by increased production and falling global prices. In the early 2000‘s, Governments in coffee-producing countries witnessed dramatically reduced foreign exchange earnings, and livelihoods in areas in which coffee was the main cash crop deteriorated drastically.
Coffee farmers only receive a tiny fraction of the amount we pay for each cup of coffee. As prices fell, so did their already minuscule portion of the profits. Even today, the price of coffee is far below what many farmers need to stay afloat, and failing crops in areas that previously grew coffee well is compounding those hardships in the numerous regions in which coffee is a key economic activity.
What does the future hold?
Estimations predict that by 2050, the land available for coffee production globally will be reduced by up to a whopping 50%. Ellis cites another study that predicts that 60% of wild coffee species may be at risk of extinction as a result. This is important, because these species are often use to breed more robust species of plants – essential for sustaining coffee production in the future.
The history of coffee is long and complicated. It’s an essential and enjoyable part of many of our daily routines. More importantly, it’s been the bread and butter of many of its producers for generations. The global coffee crisis does more than just take away our favourite beverage, it also destroys the livelihoods of millions, ruins rural communities who rely on coffee, and harshen the conditions for the citizens of nations who depend on the substance for their economies.
As much as we as consumers don’t want to hear this: Unless the price of coffee rises again, and minimum prices are implemented globally, your coffee may be at risk. The evidence is clear in the global coffee crisis we’re already witnessing, but don’t want to discuss because it makes us feel guilty for enjoying our cheap Java.
Next time you enjoy your morning coffee, keep in mind the way our own actions which fuel climate change – creating waste and neglecting to recycle, buying meat and other animal products, using unnecessary power – are slowly coming to impact the lives of people across the globe. We’re all interconnected. No action we take is done in isolation. That cup of coffee you’re drinking is so much more than simply a tasty drink and it has an impact on the world around you, and the pleasure of drinking it comes with responsibility. Be conscious, be kind, and be grateful that you get to enjoy that cuppa, because future generations may not be so lucky – unless we act now.