Media coverage about climate change frequently focuses on extreme weather events (e.g. here, here, here and here). However, in the last couple of years there has been growing attention to its impacts on key resources like food and water. Coffee is certainly not vital in the sense that food and water are but it is an extremely popular drink that gets many of us going in the morning, employs hundreds of thousands of people and counts as one of the most valuable primary products in world trade. So, it was with a bitter taste in my mouth that I read ‘Peak coffee: A cup of trouble’ in the Globe & Mail this morning. Here’s a taste:
On a mountaintop estate in the rugged coffee-making region of Quindio, Colombia, Juan Pablo Villota is at war with the weather.
For three years, abnormally wet conditions have caused massive flooding in the county’s flatlands and damage to his crops. Even the road to his 40-hectare plantation gives testament to his fight: The swollen La Vieja river is a muddy torrent that has forced lane closings along the twisting two-lane highway.
For coffee producers like Mr. Villota, those three years have been a constant battle. Without enough sun, coffee plants don’t grow the berries that are harvested for their beans. And too much humidity creates ideal conditions for coffee rust, a disease that stunts berry production. Some farmers have seen a 70-per-cent drop in yield, although his San Alberto estate has limited the damage to a 20-per-cent decline.
“It has been a disaster,” said Mr. Villota, whose grandfather bought the picturesque estate in 1972. “Three years of heavy rains with very low quantity of sun hours has decreased Colombian production … All the growers have been suffering.”
The painful struggle of Colombia’s coffee producers is part of a growing global challenge for the industry.
Changing weather patterns have wreaked havoc on coffee supply, particularly the Arabica strain, which is grown in the Americas and Africa and which makes the best coffee. Brazil and Colombia are the top two producers of Arabica, but experts say the crops are not keeping up with skyrocketing demand in emerging markets like China, India and South America, as well as among consumers in Europe and North America.
In the face of strong demand, coffee inventories have fallen to their lowest levels on record. A decade ago, coffee-making countries had stored some 55.1 million 60-kilogram bags. Last year, stocks fell to 13 million bags. The industry’s supply-demand balance is so bleak, in fact, that a scientist rocked trade forums last year by warning that the world is veering toward “peak coffee” – the point at which producers can no longer increase production to meet the world’s rising taste for the drink.
The squeeze is already being felt in grocery stores and cafés around the world. In North America this week, Starbucks Corp. raised the price of a one-pound bag of beans by 17 per cent at its U.S. stores and 6 per cent in Canada. And J.M. Smucker Co., which sells the Folgers and Dunkin’ Donuts brands, announced its fourth increase in a year for a total hike of 38 per cent.
Check out the rest of the article, including climate adaptation efforts and other factors influencing coffee prices, here.