Can coffee survive in a warmer world?

Stock up now, coffee will be gone by 2050! If you read the news, you’ve likely felt shock, horror, and finally, despair at the headlines pronouncing our beloved bean’s imminent demise. Thankfully, the whole truth is much less dire. Coffee is under threat but we will still be sipping in 2100 — and with a united effort between growers, consumers, and politicians, our progeny will be sipping for centuries to come.

Coffee is under threat from climate change, deforestation, and fungal pathogens, most notably the dreaded coffee rust. Each of these three primary threats compounds the others, leading to an increase in droughts / sporadic rainfall, extreme weather, warmer nights (which fails to kill harmful fungi), reduced growing area, and wild species extinction. According to a 2019 study conducted by a team of leading British scientists, 74 (60%) of the world’s 124 wild coffee species are at risk of going extinct if current conditions and practices persist1. Thankfully, arabica, the most common high-grown, shade-grown species is not one of those at risk. Most of the wild at-risk species are native to Ethiopia and few are cultivated or consumed. Robusta, a hearty, durable, sun-grown species is presently safe. This does not mean that arabica and robusta are not at risk of developing pathogens resulting in reduced global supply — they are very much at risk but they have always been at risk and that risk is just slightly higher now (more on this next week!). Arabica, which grows best under a natural shade canopy, between 64°F and 70° Fahrenheit, is also at greater risk of habitat loss due to both deforestation and global warming.

Over the past century, scientists and geneticists have worked to create more resistant strains and hybrids of arabica and robusta coffees. Unfortunately, most of these hybrids lack the quality of a purebred bean. These studies have, however, shed light on steps growers, producers, and consumers can take to preserve quality growing habitat, particularly in areas of conservation, shade coverage, natural pest control, and waste-minimizing, resource-minimizing coffee processing. Scientists are also making a great effort to preserve seeds of endangered species. As consumers, you have the power to support companies and growers that practice eco-conscious farming by looking for shade-grown, high-grown arabicas and / or coffee with environmental accreditation, such as Rainforest Alliance Certified.

The bottom like? Coffee is under threat but the threat is not unique to coffee. It is the threat mammals, ancient ecosystems, farmers, and we are all facing. It’s real but it does not necessarily signal the end of all that we love — certainly not the end of our beloved cup of morning coffee. Through conscious production, conscious consumption, and a united effort to curb global warming, we can collectively ensure the coffee plant continues to thrive for millennia.


1High extinction risk for wild coffee species and implications for coffee sector sustainability

Here’s How Climate Change Hurts Coffee

Global Warming Is Helping to Wipe Out Coffee in the Wild

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