Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
July 29, 2020 ·  5 min read

World Could Soon ‘Run Out Of Coffee’ Due To Global Warming

Due to rising temperatures, extreme weather, and an increase in pests and disease, the world is under threat of a coffee shortage, and a drink that is consumed by nearly everyone may become a luxury item affordable only for the wealthy.

Last year, more than 165 million sixty-kilogram bags of coffee were consumed worldwide [1]. The bitter liquid is the most popular drink around the world, with about two billion cups consumed every day [2]. Your morning pick-me-up, however, is in danger thanks to climate change.

A Looming Coffee Shortage

Extreme temperatures, historically low prices, and an increase in disease and pests are forcing many coffee farmers around the world to abandon coffee in favor of other crops like sugarcane. Experts are now fearing that as much as fifty percent of the land currently being used to grow coffee could be unsuitable for this purpose by the year 2050 [3]. Some estimates even predict that wild coffee will be wiped from the face of the earth by 2080 [5].

The coffee could also be of lower quality as farmers are forced to turn to new varieties that can withstand more severe environmental conditions, which will likely cause production volume to decrease, thus increasing the price [3].

Increased Disease and Pests

Not only is climate change causing flooding in some locations and draught in others, it is also creating conditions in which disease and pests can thrive, thus decreasing crop yields even further.

One such disease is called leaf rust disease, and after an outbreak that devastated the coffee crop in Piura’s valley district of Montero five years ago, it continues to decrease yields in a significant way.

The disease covers the leaves of the coffee plant in an orange dust that causes them to fall off. This stops the plant from turning the sunlight into energy via photosynthesis, and prevents it from producing the same number of coffee beans it could if it were healthy. 

Segundo Alejandro Guerrero Mondragon and his family have been farming coffee for more than a century. They have been experimenting with new coffee varieties, have been planting higher up in the steep valley because the plants are no longer thriving at the lower altitudes, and have been replacing some of their coffee crops with sugar cane.

“Our area used to be free of all types of disease,” the 72-year-old said [3].

They have also been dealing with another disease known as brown eye, as well as an aggressive coffee pest called the borer beetle.

“Lately we were managing to partly control brown eye, but when we got rust it was a largely unknown disease and really concerned us, it hit us really hard and there was a huge drop in production,” he explained [3].

Poorer Farmers are Being Hit the Hardest

Segundo and his sons are part of Norandino, which is Peru’s largest Fairtrade cooperative. Because they are members of this coop, they have been able to invest in production facilities that speed up their coffee farming, as well as experiment with new varieties of coffee that will be more resilient bean.

Not all farmers are able to afford such luxuries. For this reason, the family is allowing farmers who are not part of the cooperative to use their machinery, and offering seasonal employment for students and women to share their knowledge [3].

What is the Coffee Industry Doing?

According to M. Sanjayan, the CEO of Conservation International, the coffee industry is the only sector that is doing anything at scale in terms of its response to climate change.

Many coffee companies have increased their presence on the ground in coffee-growing regions like Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Indonesia, and are working with small farms to help them adapt by providing seeds, monitoring production, and suggesting new agricultural processes [4].

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz explained that the company’s work to adapt to climate change is not just about the environment.

 “It’s also to procure high-quality coffee, to get the best possible yield, at the best possible price.” [4]

Over the last decade the coffee giant has put a tremendous amount of work into developing a coffee bean that is more resilient to the effects of climate change, without compromising flavor and quality.

Starbucks now has support centers in nine countries, and has a ten-year, five hundred million dollar investment fund that supports sustainability programs like adaptation training for farmers and testing new coffee varieties.

The company says that it is eager to share the lessons it learns with coffee growers around the world, because, according to Schultz, improving the ability for all coffee growers to survive climate change benefits the entire industry.

“It may be hard for people to understand why we are sharing all this information,” said Schultz. “If we don’t, there’s going to be tremendous adverse pressure on the coffee industry.” [4]

Demand is Growing

The coffee industry is expecting that the global demand for coffee will double by 2050, driven by a growing population and an increase in popularity among the middle-class in Asia, Africa, and other regions around the world [4].

At the same time, as was already mentioned, coffee supply is expected to decrease substantially by then, creating a severe shortage and driving up the price of the beloved drink. The industry needs to adapt, but it will be at an enormous cost.

Andrea Illy, chairman of Illycaffè, says that the coffee industry is spending more than one hundred million dollars per year to support this adaptation, but its not enough.

“The best educated guess is that in order to adapt to climate change, we would need as an overall industry to invest something like $1 billion per year to rejuvenate plantations, develop new varieties, improve equipment, even migrate some coffee plantations.” [4]

No matter how much money the coffee industry pours into climate change adaptation, the industry is at the mercy of a growing global population who continues to pump greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Unless every country around the world works to mitigate climate change, coffee could be one more casualty among many, and climate change could turn coffee-drinking into an indulgence for the wealthy only.