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  • Writer's pictureRayki Goh, MSc

Coffee, Climate, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future

Climate change imperils coffee regions, with a 50% loss expected by 2050. Can sustainability, super seed, hydroponic farming solutions, agroforestry, and ethical sourcing counteract this threat despite challenges like certification effectiveness and technological integration?

Coffee, climate, and the fight for a sustainable future.

Dear Food People,

 

Ever stopped to think about how climate change might mess with your daily cup of Venti Iced Caramel Macchiato with almond milk, two pumps of chai, and an extra shot of espresso? In this week’s article, let’s discuss what’s more worrying than memorising the most complicated coffee order ever existed! Researchers are saying we could see up to a 50% drop in areas where coffee can grow by 2050.

 

The thought of waking up in a world where our coffee doesn't pack its usual punch of aroma and flavour is downright unsettling isn’t it?

 

But let's not lose hope just yet. There's an incredible group of scientists and farmers who've rolled up their sleeves to tackle this issue head-on. They're deep into developing what you could call "super seeds"—these aren't your ordinary coffee seeds. These are special, engineered to stand up to the kind of extreme weather that climate change is throwing our way.

 

Now, you might wonder, "How exactly does one 'whip up' a new variety of coffee seed?" It's a fair question. In this process, plant breeding is involved. It's like matchmaking for plants: selecting specific traits that can help the next generation survive better in harsher conditions. Plant breeding involves traditional methods like selection, crossbreeding, and mutagenesis to develop new plant varieties with desired traits and is different from GMOs. Think of it as creating a coffee plant that's got built-in armour against drought, pests that thrive in warmer climates, and the kind of heat that would usually make a coffee plant wilt.

 

Developing these resilient coffee varieties is a complex and time-consuming process. It's a painstaking process, requiring not just a deep understanding of genetics but also a lot of trial and error. Scientists have to crossbreed plants, test the new varieties in different conditions, and see which ones hold up best. Then, they repeat the process, fine-tuning the plants' resistance traits until they get it just right.

 

But why is this so crucial? Well, coffee plants are pretty finicky. They like specific conditions: not too hot, not too cold, and just the right amount of rain. Climate change is messing with these conditions, making it harder for traditional coffee varieties to thrive. By developing new varieties that can handle less water or higher temperatures, we're ensuring that coffee can continue to grow in changing climates.

 

So, while we might not see these "super seeds" in action tomorrow, knowing that this work is happening is reassuring. It's a testament to human ingenuity and our love for coffee, pushing us to find solutions that ensure our mornings remain as aromatic and flavourful as ever. It's a reminder that even against something as daunting as climate change, there are folks out there fighting the good fight for our beloved brew.

 

And it's not just about the seeds. Farmers are getting creative with how they grow coffee, adding shade trees to protect the plants and enrich the earth. They're also trying out smart farming methods to make their crops more climate-proof. What about growing coffee indoors or using techy solutions like hydroponics?

 

When we talk about growing coffee indoors or using high-tech methods like hydroponics, it sounds like a sci-fi solution to real-world problems. But what does it actually involve, and why isn't everyone doing it already? First up, growing coffee indoors means you're trying to recreate a coffee plant's natural environment inside a building or greenhouse. This can include everything from the light it needs to the temperature and humidity. It's like setting up a mini-ecosystem to shelter them from potential harm.

 

The idea here is to protect the coffee plants from unpredictable weather, pests, and diseases that are becoming more common because of climate change. Now, onto hydroponics. This method ditches soil altogether and grows plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. It's pretty cool because it allows for a very efficient use of water and nutrients. Plus, by closely controlling the environment, you can potentially achieve higher yields and faster growth. It's like giving the coffee plants a super-charged, tailor-made environment.

 

But here's the catch: both of these approaches have their own set of challenges. For starters, they can be energy hogs. Growing coffee indoors or in hydroponic systems often requires artificial lighting, temperature control, and other systems to mimic natural conditions. And all that equipment needs power, which can lead to high energy bills and, depending on where the energy comes from, a not-so-great carbon footprint.

 

Then there's the water management issue. While hydroponics is more water-efficient than traditional soil farming, it still needs careful monitoring and control. Getting the nutrient mix right and keeping the water at the perfect level for coffee plants can be tricky. It's not a simple "set it and forget it" scenario; rather, it involves a continuous process of balance.

 

Despite these hurdles, the potential benefits make these methods worth exploring for some farmers, especially as they look for ways to adapt to climate change. It's all about finding sustainable, efficient ways to keep our coffee supply secure without harming the planet. So, while not everyone is jumping on the indoor or hydroponic coffee bandwagon just yet, these innovative farming techniques could play a part in the future of coffee production. It's a fascinating area to watch, especially if you're into coffee, sustainability, or both!

 

Don't forget the power of people coming together. Initiatives like Coffee&Climate are out there, offering training and support to coffee-growing communities to help them face climate challenges head-on and keep their livelihoods going strong. The coffee-growing heartlands, from Latin America to the tropics, are feeling the heat of climate change. This includes some of the top coffee-producing countries, like Brazil, Vietnam, and Honduras, where farmers are already dealing with lower yields and tougher times.

 

In response, some farmers are taking drastic measures, such as moving their crops to cooler, higher spots or even under cover to escape the worst of the weather. There's also a push to create tougher coffee plants with the help of groups like World Coffee Research. Also, there's agroforestry! It is like a superhero for coffee farms, bringing in trees to live alongside the coffee plants. This setup not only fights off extreme weather but also makes the soil happier and healthier. It's a win-win: the environment gets a boost, and farmers get more stable, quality crops.

 

Despite the challenges, there's been a wave of innovation and commitment aimed at keeping our coffee flowing. This fight against climate change is a team effort, involving everyone from scientists to local farmers, and even you and me by supporting eco-friendly coffee practices. And hey, if you've got any thoughts or ideas on how we can tackle environmental or food sustainability issues, or if there's something specific you want us to cover in our future articles, shoot us a message over at dearfoodpeople.com. We'd love to hear from you!


 

Further Reading:

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2024) 'A Systematic Review on the Impacts of Climate Change on Coffee Agrosystems', National Center for Biotechnology Information, 18 February 2024, Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9824350/

  2. Euronews (2023) 'Coffee lovers are ‘increasing inequalities’. Is there a better way?', Euronews, 19 February 2023, Available at: https://www.euronews.com/green/2023/02/19/climate-change-is-redrawing-the-coffee-growing-map-heres-how-farmers-are-clinging-on

  3. Coffee and Climate (2024) 'Growing Coffee in the Face of Climate Change', Coffee and Climate, 20 February 2024, Available at: https://coffeeandclimate.org/growing-coffee-in-the-face-of-climate-change/

  4. Columbia University (2021) 'Avoiding a Bitter End for Coffee From Climate Change - State of the Planet', Columbia University, 2 April 2021, Available at: https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2021/04/02/coffee-climate-change/


 

The information provided in our articles is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The content on our website, including articles, is not meant to endorse or promote any specific medical treatments, products, or procedures. The information provided is based on general knowledge and research at the time of writing. Medical practices and knowledge are constantly evolving, and what may have been accurate at the time of publication may not be current or applicable today.

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