Growth and development of coffee consumption
So this is all good news. Coffee production is providing producing countries and importing countries with a commodity that supports livelihoods and commerce. Yes…but there are problems. These include market volatility, pests and diseases, adverse weather events and increasing production costs, leading to failing crops and low revenues for the farmer and sustainability issues for coffee providers in general.
There are several causal agents behind the above problems but climate change is the most prevalent and worrying. Indeed, it has been argued that the extreme wet weather of recent years in Central America, which led to the severe episode of the immensely damaging fungal pathogen coffee leaf rust (CLR), and the last two droughts in Brazil, were driven, or at least exacerbated, by long-term global climate change. These events have resulted in huge, multi-million losses in revenue. Convincing scientific evidence shows that increases in average temperatures over the long term have caused coffee pests to migrate to new areas, and that the severity of infestations has increased.
Climate change and coffee production in Ethiopia
There is good reason for focusing on Ethiopia, as it is the world’s third largest producer/exporter of Arabica coffee. It is home to at least 95% of the genetic resources for the species. The genetic diversity of Arabica coffee outside Ethiopia, in farms and plantations around the world, is woefully inadequate.
Coffee is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy, providing more than 30% of the country’s export earnings, totalling around $350 million. It is estimated that 25% of the population, some 20 million people, depend directly or indirectly on coffee for its livelihood; in SW Ethiopia coffee is the main provider of household income. Ethiopia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper and Growth and Transformation Plan (2010/11–2014/15) highlights that increasing coffee productivity, while conserving biodiversity and genetic resources, will play an important role in Ethiopia reaching the first Millennium development goal (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger). However, coffee production in Ethiopia faces numerous challenges in an uncertain climatic future.
In 2012, we published the study The Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Arabica Coffee (Coffea arabica): Predicting Future Trends and Identifying Priorities, which investigated the potential influence of climate change on wild Arabica coffee in Ethiopia and South Sudan, the only places on Earth where this species grows naturally.
The computer modelling study indicated a severely negative impact on wild coffee forests, with predictions of 65% to almost 100% loss of suitable localities for the survival of the species. As these forests occur within the same bioclimatic areas as most of the coffee produced in Ethiopia, the logical assumption was that Ethiopia coffee production would be also severely negatively affected.
In November 2013, we embarked on the collaborative project Building a climate resilient coffee economy for Ethiopia, under the Strategic Climate Institutions Programme (SCIP). The SCIP Fund is a DFID/Norway/Denmark-backed fund designed to build Ethiopia’s capacity to cope with climate change across the public, private and civil society sectors and to respond to the challenges of transitioning to a climate resilient green economy.
The aim of the project is to provide a climate resilient coffee economy strategy for Ethiopia via a rigorous assessment of the influence of climate change on coffee producing areas and wild coffee forests. The climate change assessment is based on a combination of activities, including high resolution mapping, climate change modelling, extensive ground-truthing, farmer interviews and climate monitoring.
After more than 10,000km of travel across Ethiopia, visiting coffee production areas and wild coffee forests, we have now gathered sufficient data to verify the satellite mapping of forest coffee production and to run the computer modelling for those areas that cannot be easily viewed from space, such as coffee gardens (small-scale production, of often less than 20 trees). The data analyses are now well underway, including the review of 24 climate change models and the mapping of coffee forests at less than 30 m resolution. Once finalized, these analyses will be compared with information gathered from farmers and producers, existing weather station data and climate monitoring equipment that we have placed within coffee farms across Ethiopia.
Later this year we will present our findings to key stakeholders in Ethiopia to gather their considerable expertise and expert opinion. The strategy developed during this and other workshops, in combination with other project outputs, will provide the understanding and awareness required to best sustain the Ethiopian coffee industry in relation to climate change and land-use, and identify what is needed to ensure resilience. In short, we will identify what to do, when, where and why.
Writing by Aaron Davis on www.kew.org