We know that coffee is vulnerable to rising temperatures, which affect both the quality and productivity of the plant. But not all coffee climates will be affected equally by climate change. Coffee is currently grown in many different climate zones in the equatorial belt—from hot and dry, to cooler and wetter—but previous studies of coffee and climate change only distinguished between areas that are or will be “suitable” or “unsuitable” for coffee growing. This limits their practical usefulness for designing programs to adapt coffee in the face of climate change.
We needed to define the existing climate zones for coffee, as well as describe the differences among unsuitable areas. Using machine learning and predictive computing, we can describe the range of coffee's current "suitable" climates, as well as provide a more detailed view of what zones are or will become "unsuitable." Some coffee areas will not require any adaptations to continue growing coffee through 2050. But some areas predicted to become unsuitable will require interventions. Unsuitable areas will include those that are adaptable to climate change through interventions like planting shade, switching to new coffee varieties, or adopting irrigation. Others will be so marginal that coffee will not be able to grow at all, and the best adaptation for farmers will be to switch to other crops.
Having this kind of information will significantly assist climate change adaptation and climate-smart agriculture planning for coffee. It is a necessary first step for efforts to assist farmers as they adjust to the new realities of a changing climate.