Agriculture, forestry and other land uses are responsible for about a quarter of all anthropogenic carbon emissions.1 Coffee, as one of the world’s most widely consumed beverages and a highly exported agricultural commodity, contributes meaningfully to global GHG emissions. It's safe to assume that emissions from coffee production have grown steadily as both demand and supply have risen over the past decades. GHG emissions at the farm level are contributed by farm management practices, such as fertilizer use, and through deforestation and other land use conversion. While on the whole coffee production clearly adds carbon to the atmosphere, some coffee production systems—in particular intercropped agroforestry systems—can contribute to both climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts by sequestering carbon and increasing landscape resiliency.
The climate crisis demands the near-total transformation of global systems, and coffee agriculture is no exception. In order to meet rising coffee demand without increasing the GHG emissions within coffee management systems or through deforestation, coffee production systems must be radically transformed over the next 10-30 years in favor of more productive varieties that thrive in agroforestry systems and soil health. This level of transformation is not possible without technological innovation.
Through its "global leadership" function, WCR works to generate consensus on the most important challenges facing coffee (for which agricultural R&D can provide solutions), and to mobilize research on these challenges. As of 2021, this is a new program area for WCR, and we are still working to define what it will look like going forward. Clearly, however, climate mitigation is a central challenge.
Questions WCR is engaging on this topic include:
- What tools, methods, and data are needed to support more accurate carbon accounting at the farm level? (see below)
- What types of coffee production systems will be needed in the near and medium-term future to support the world's urgent climate goals?
- What are the barriers to shifting existing systems to the coffee agricultural systems of the future? How can variety improvement and enhanced productivity address some of these barriers?
- Can the coffee plant itself contribute to carbon sequestration, e.g., through increased biomass?