Thursday, August 6, 2009

Climate trouble for coffee growers

Peter Baker in How will climate change affect coffee production, and what should we do about it? Coffee is the world's most valuable tropical agricultural export — produced by about 20 million smallholder families — so these are important questions. The weather outlook for coffee growers over the next millennium is poor: it will be hotter everywhere, with prolonged dry spells in many places, interspersed with very heavy rain.

Coffee grows well within a limited climatic range. As temperatures rise, so will coffee — to higher altitudes and latitudes. But space is limited and there will be competition with other crops. Coffee farmers will experience climate change through greater unpredictability, with more droughts and floods — the last thing any farmer wants.

Climate change already seems to be affecting coffee production. It is difficult to attribute direct causality, but the changes we are seeing are entirely consistent with climate modellers' predictions.

Sometimes the effects are slow. For example, 50 years ago, nearly three-quarters of Indian coffee production was the premium bean, arabica; now it is less than half, with robusta coffee (a species that withstands hotter conditions) filling the gap….

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