Food & Drinks

Earth’s Suitability For Growing Coffee Will ‘Drastically Decrease’ By 2050, Study Says

Topline

Climate change will make the planet “drastically” less suitable for growing coffee by 2050, though some areas—including the U.S.—are expected to become more suitable as minimum winter temperatures rise, according to a study published Wednesday by PLOS One.

Key Facts

Areas highly suitable for coffee growing are expected to shrink by 54% to 60%, moderately suitable areas by 31% to 41% and marginally suitable areas by 5% to 13%, depending on the amount of greenhouse gas produced in coming years, according to researchers affiliated with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences Institute of Natural Resource Sciences.

The most productive coffee-growing regions in Central and South America, Central and West Africa, India and Southeast Asia are expected to become significantly less suitable for the crop, according to the study.

Some regions just north or south of productive coffee-growing areas are expected to become more suitable  due to warming temperatures, including the U.S., Argentina, Chile, China, East Africa, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Southern Brazil and Uruguay, researchers found.

Lead study author Roman Grüter warned coffee growers operating in marginal areas that, while climate change might benefit them, they shouldn’t expect their area to transform into perfect growing regions within 10 years.

Researchers suggested farmers consider breeding coffee varieties that are better adapted to higher temperatures and drought or consider replacing arabica coffee plants with robusta plants, which are hardier but produce coffee with a harsher taste.

Key Background

Arabica, the coffee species that accounts for 70% of coffee production, thrives between 64 and 70 degrees, and can tolerate mean annual temperatures up to about 73 degrees, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Higher temperatures accelerate ripening but degrade coffee bean quality, and may promote infestations of coffee berry borer beetles, a pest that already causes losses of more than $500 million annually. Coffee is one of the biggest cash crops in the world, and the livelihoods of numerous smallholder farmers could be disrupted unless proactive steps are taken to adapt to changing climate patterns, researchers said. Starbucks has already begun distributing climate-resistant coffee plants to farmers, CNN reported.

Crucial Quote

“Your coffee is at risk,” Grüter told Time. “I wouldn’t say there might be no coffee anymore, but adapting to changing conditions will be necessary.”

Surprising Fact

More Americans report drinking coffee during the past day than any other beverage, including tap water, according to the National Coffee Association, a market research and lobbying group.

Contra

While rising temperatures may shrink areas suitable for coffee growing, they could increase farming of cashews and avocados, crops that flourish in a warm climate, researchers said.

Further Reading

“Climate change: Key crops face major shifts as world warms” (BBC)

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