It is a reality now that even the smallest of our daily pleasures may suffer from the impact of climate change. According to Peter Baker, a coffee specialist with CABI, a research group in Britain that focuses on agriculture and the environment, coffee supplies could be one such example of a commodity heading for an unavoidable decline due to global warming.
Coffee futures of Arabica, the high-end of bean quality, coming predominantly from Latin America have risen more than 85% due to concerns about supply, extreme weather and future quality, commented George Kopp, an analyst at the International Futures Group in Chicago, to the New York Times. In Columbia, the production of coffee fell 25% in 2010 as compared to 2006.
As in so many cases, those hit the most by price trends are not the international brands such as Nespresso and Starbucks, but those at the very bottom of the production chain.
Climate Change has already hit the coffee farmers in a dramatic manner. In the lush mountainous Cauca region of south-west Colombia, yields have plummeted mostly due to raising temperatures and unpredictable rain patterns. Coffee plants require the right mix of temperature, rainfall and dry spells for beans to ripen properly and maintain their taste. In the last few years, a combination of factors like extreme heat and cold, unseasonal rains, severe droughts and floods, prolonged high daytime temperatures and sudden drops in night time temperatures have significantly affected the ecosystem of the plantations.
Luis Fernando Samper, Director of Intellectual Property at the Columbian Coffee Federation, said that climate change is already affecting Colombia. The lower coffee plantations have had to change their livelihood and start rearing beef cattle.
"We face not one climate change but many climate changes in Colombia", he said during the Product Carbon Footprinting Summit in Zurich.
The future appears bleak and uncertain for millions of farmers who for decades have relied on coffee to clothe their children and put them through school, to sustain their way of life.
In its 2009/10 annual report, the International Coffee Organization launched an appeal to the UNFCCC (United Nation Convention on Climate Change) seeking recognition for the coffee sector, with the hope of collaborating to find effective responses to the impact of climate change, and ensuring that coffee will be taken into account in the development of international strategies and agreements.
Experts from the coffee-growing sector and scientists are also working towards identifying climate adaptation strategies, like improved farming practices, better post-harvest processing, capacity-building, enhancing soil fertility, and developing drought and disease-resistant varieties of beans. If the situation becomes more extreme, farmers will be faced with shifting their production to higher altitudes. Such a shift would require considerable investments to acquire new land and diversify production.
Our beloved cup of coffee will become more and more expensive because of global warming. Not a big deal though, we can always opt for other drinks. But, what about the very future of millions of coffee farmers? Will they also be able to switch to other plantations?