Coffee Shortage? Scientists Say Huge Exporter Threatened By Climate Change

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If the world is going to keep drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, we will have to do something about the impending crisis scientists are predicting for the coffee crops in Ethiopia, a country that is one of the leading producers of the precious beans.

A study in Nature Plants says as temperatures rise in that land and there is less rain — factors that are already affecting the crops — 40 percent to 60 percent of the areas used to grow coffee could become a completely unsuitable climate for the crop in the coming decades. The scientists say a solution to the possible problem would be to relocate the farms: Moving them to strategic areas at higher elevations. Practicing forest conservation could quadruple the amount of arable land coffee farmers could use and would lean on land that would be more resilient in the face of changing climate conditions.

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The forest conservation, which could include re-establishing some forest environments, is linked to the fact that the large majority of Ethiopian coffee is grown in forested areas or habitats that are forest-like.

“A ‘business-as-usual’ approach could be disastrous for the Ethiopia coffee economy in the long term,” lead study author Justin Moat, a University of Nottingham professor, told Agence France-Presse.

A coffee crisis isn’t just bad for the world’s coffee drinkers — the African nation would suffer if the roughly 15 million coffee farmers there lost their product, which accounts for a quarter of Ethiopia’s exports.

It’s already a problem: “Against a backdrop of rapidly increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall, there is an urgent need to understand the influence of climate change on coffee production,” the study says. “Coffee farmers and other coffee sector stakeholders in Ethiopia and East Africa report that coffee production has been negatively influenced by changes in climate.”

Those negative influences are things like less consistent and more intense weather, less rain and a shift in the timing and durations of the wet and dry seasons.

According to the study, by the last few decades of the 21st century, the temperature and rain could gut coffee farming if the crops are not moved to other areas.

“It is going to be a massive undertaking — there is time to make the necessary transitions if we start now,” co-author Aaron Davis told AFP. “But if we wait, it will only become more difficult and more traumatic.”

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The big coffee crop in Ethiopia is the popular Arabica. Although half of the coffee is consumed by Ethiopians themselves, there is still enough growing there to make the country the fifth largest exporter worldwide, and the largest African producer of Arabica coffee.

“Timely, precise, science-based decision making is required now and over the coming decades, to ensure sustainability and resilience for the Ethiopian coffee sector,” the study said.