The Devastating Impacts of Climate Change on Your Morning Coffee

The Devastating Impacts of Climate Change on Your Morning Coffee

June 04, 2021

How coffee could become a luxury commodity if the current climate changes trends continue


Similar to the crops we are accustomed to in North America, coffee plants and coffee production depends heavily on consistent growing conditions. Climate change and the changing weather patterns have had significant negative impacts on the coffee production industry.

Climate change has negative consequences on relatively every industry, however, smallholder coffee farmers are facing these harsh realities as we speak. Coffee is predominantly growing in developing countries bordering the Equator, affectionately known as the Coffee Belt, and changing weather patterns can have serious economic impacts on coffee producers’ livelihoods.

A climate-sensitive crop, coffee and the production of coffee are highly susceptible to climate change.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest implications of climate change on the coffee industry.

Increased spread of disease and pests

Higher humidity, heavy storms and increasing heat are encouraging diseases and pests to thrive.

A fungus called coffee leaf rust spreads in warm, humid areas, resulting in this deadly disease spreading to more coffee plants at increasing rates.

Coffee leaf rust attacks leaves on the coffee plant, causing the coffee tree to produce fewer fruits. A deadly disease with these drastic effects has the potential to devastate both smallholder and larger coffee farms with its widespread destruction.

Swings in the price of coffee beans due to the changing weather patterns can create unpredictable and often shackling financial situations for the coffee farmers. Some farmers may not be able to afford the cost of coffee production if the price of coffee beans is too low.

Decrease in harvesting, crop quality and yield amounts

The globally unpredictable temperatures and rainfall patterns are impacting farmer’s harvest times, and the crop quality and yield amounts.

Rainfall is a significant growth factor for coffee plants, with too much rain creating a mould or interfering with the harvesting season and practices, and too little rain creating substandard fruit.

Neither situation is favourable and has devastating effects on these coffee farmers. This could force coffee farmers to unwillingly relocate to higher altitudes, regardless of whether or not the coffee farmer can afford it.

Coffee plants take five years to bear fruit. Relocating and replanting their crops is a tremendous risk for a smallholder coffee farmer to make, but some will have no choice but to move to more mountainous and strenuous working conditions in an attempt to grow their crops.

Roasting the Coffee Belt

The Coffee Belt is a narrow region of the tropics, stretching from Central America to sub-Saharan Africa to Asia, and produces the majority of the worldwide coffee supply.  

With the current climate change trends, approximately ¾ of the Coffee Belt will no longer have suitable growing conditions or lands for growing Arabica coffee crops, the most relied upon coffee bean by coffee roasters.

Robusta coffee beans are a bit more of a resilient coffee species, however, cannot be a replacement for Arabica because of their lack of flavour, which is why is it mostly used in creating blends of different coffees.

Increasingly dangerous working conditions

Coffee workers and pickers typically harvest the coffee cherries by hand, with automated harvesting techniques either too expensive or not suitable for the geography of the farming landscape.

As climate change is making these farms hotter, the coffee trees are producing fewer coffee fruits that contain coffee beans. Some coffee farmers have pivoted and began planting large trees to shade their coffee trees, but this is not a long-term solution.

Increases in the heat and humidity on these coffee farms also increase the hazardous working conditions for coffee pickers. Potentially cutting down on the number of staff and working hours due to climate change hurts the yield each farm can pull in each season.

Both a decrease in the number of harvestable plants and an increase in the hazardous working conditions due to the current climate change trends are keeping these coffee farmers in shackles. 

With approximately 70% of the world’s coffee coming from smallholder coffee farmers, current climate change and global warming trends have the potential to devastate these coffee farming families and communities, holding them back from their full potential and advancement towards independence and freedom.

Projected future impacts of current climate change trends

If the current trends of climate change and global warming continue, there will be an irreversible impact on the coffee production industry. Here are three key events that can happen:

  1. There is the potential for some specialty coffees to disappear.
  2. The likelihood of coffee bean prices increasing due to the downward trend of crop yields.
  3. The potential for the quality of the average cup of coffee to decline.

A lack of optimal growing conditions will impact the quality of the coffee fruit harvested, resulting in a lesser-quality cup of coffee. The beloved Coffee Belt is among the most vulnerable regions to climate impacts, and the rapid environmental changes have already changed coffee production in numerous countries.

For smallholder coffee farmers, even the slightest change in production output and crop yields can make the difference in whether or not they can feed their families.

Climate change and global warming is a significant and globally recognized problem that has the potential to drastically change or even eliminate some industries. Coffee farmers, especially smallholder farmers, are feeling the effects of climate change now. 

Author Jordan Calladine