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Ethiopia to lose up to 59% of coffee lands to climate change

July 10, 2017

Without major efforts to adapt, coffee's birthplace threatened

A major new paper published last month in the journal Nature Plants finds that Ethiopia, the birthplace of Arabica coffee, may lose up to 59% of its coffee lands by the end of the century due to climate change, include entire coffee regions. However, if decisive action is taken, it would be possible to adapt the country's coffee sector to rising temperatures and lessening rainfall, mostly through relocating coffee areas to higher altitudes.

The study's authors found that areas with current low rainfall can't tolerate projected steady temp increases. Harrar, Bale, and Sidamo—all prized coffee origins—have very low rainfall currently, meaning the areas are likely to not be able to support coffee in the future. That would be like Bordeaux no longer being able to grow wine. Great coffee regions could be wiped off the map.

Coffee could thrive, however, in currently unfarmed upslope areas (2070-2099 m). But that would mean major migration of farming from current areas, and reversal of deforestation trends—both of which are difficult and expensive to achieve in practice. ""It looks easy in the paper, just move everything upslope, to higher ground," lead author Aaron Davis of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens told NPR. "But in reality, it's going to take a lot of coordination, a lot of effort and a lot of resources to do that."

The study, led by researchers from Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, is the most comprehensive climate impact study ever for coffee, a new gold standard. "It's brilliant," says Tim Schilling, WCR's CEO. The authors drove over 30,000 km, crisscrossing Ethiopia's coffee regions, to conduct interviews and make direct observations to test and confirm the results of sophisticated predictive mapping.

The full study can be found in Nature Plants. A summary report of the study is available on the Kew Gardens website.

Major media outlets covered the story, and interviewed World Coffee Research:

  • BBC: Coffee under threat

    "The supply of high-quality coffee is severely threatened by climate change, diseases and pests, land pressure, and labour shortages - and demand for these coffees is rising every year". In some coffee areas, temperatures have already risen enough to begin having quality impacts, he adds. "The logical result of that is that prices will need to rise, especially for the highest quality coffees, which are the most threatened,” he adds.

  • Guardian: Global warming brews big trouble for coffee birthplace Ethiopia

    The new research is a “brilliant piece of work”, according to Tim Schilling, chief executive of the World Coffee Research programme: “This is the only comprehensive, country-specific study I have seen that uses some of the best methods in climate modelling coupled to very rigorous ground-truthing – extremely useful for governments and industry and a model to be repeated.”

  • CNN: Climate change could lower the quality of your coffee

    "The problem is coffee producers aren't paid enough, so helping them adapt to a very difficult complex, changing situation like you see with climate change and extreme weather events is very, very difficult to do," said Hanna Neuschwander, a spokeswoman for World Coffee Research.





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