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Climate change is redrawing the coffee map

Traceability gives recognition to the producers and validates where the coffee is grown, picked, and processed in addition to the assurance that it was produced ethically and sustainably. It allows buyers and consumers to understand more about producing regions in various countries as well as the intricate processes involved in preparing specialty coffee beans.

Most coffee is produced in highland tropical regions. But researchers have found that rising temperatures could reduce the areas suitable for growing coffee by 50%.

This redrawing of the global coffee map poses devastating risks to national economies such as Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Brazil, India and Madagascar. It also crushes the livelihoods of coffee farmers, 70% of whom run small-scale operations.

Harvesting coffee is a delicate process that occurs just once per year in the plant’s twenty-year lifetime. The perennial tree must take root in temperate conditions and pass a series of milestones before it can blossom.

But climate change is throwing the €458 billion global coffee market, of which Europe represents the largest consumer share, into flux.

Vertical farming and indoor farming allows for greater control of resources like water, light and exposure to wind, all of which can be unruly in the open field. The rise of expensive indoor farming methods may lead to coffee production being relocated to major consumer markets in Europe or the United States.

The market value of raw coffee is relatively low compared to the prices consumers pay, and small-scale farmers generally see the least of those profits. Whereas wealthier farmers and investors can afford to subsidise the cost of more expensive farming methods like engineered fertilising and drip-irrigation systems. This helps them gain entry to niche premium coffee markets where the bigger profits are to be made.

Some smaller farms are finding solutions. Shade trees, for example, are used to shield coffee plants from direct sunlight and help steady temperature changes throughout the day. These extra trees protect the coffee plants from strong winds and upgrade the soil quality, as the leaf litter naturally fertilises the earth. Their deep roots can also promote a deeper infiltration of rainwater, so the coffee plant has easier access to water.

What coffee experts do agree on is that adaptations need to be made now, and in ways that are accessible for most producers. How this is done remains up for debate and dependent on the regional context.

Consumers still appear to be the driving force behind the increased demand for transparency, each link in the coffee supply chain, from the producer to the buyer, has a vested interest in bringing greater traceability to the coffee industry.

This gives the consumer the control over where their coffee comes from and the ability to support these smaller farmers and producers.

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