Coffee to be hit hard by warming planet

Arabica coffee is commonly grown in high altitude locations in Latin America, a region threatened by climate change. Photo from Wiki Commons.

Arabica coffee is commonly grown in high-altitude locations in Latin America, a region threatened by climate change. Photo from Wiki Commons

By Meghan Eldridge 

DES MOINES, Iowa — In the midst of a changing climate, coffee is one of the cash crops most hit by increasing temperatures and the likelihood of extreme weather events, a coffee agronomist said here Wednesday.

Though coffee is not a food crop, it affects the livelihood of more than one million farming families in Latin America alone, said Carl Cervone of TechnoServe, a non-profit organization working with people in the developing world to create competitive farms and businesses.

In many Latin American countries, coffee is selling below market prices, Cervone said. The price of coffee reached its lowest point in October since April 2009, dropping four percent between August and September, according to the International Coffee Organization.

Cervone made the comments during a session on “Feeding a Growing World in the Face of Climate Variability” during the World Food Prize/Borlaug Dialogue.

Price fluctuations in the coffee sector have caused Latin America to fall behind other regions in profitability of coffee production. Latin America is experiencing production costs beyond $1.20 and market prices around 90 cents per pound, Cervone said.

On the other hand, Vietnam currently produces coffee for the highest profit margin, with low production costs and high market prices.

“In Latin America, unfortunately, we see the worst of both worlds,” Cervone said. “Latin America no longer occupies a prominent place in the coffee sector.”

Arabica coffee, a type grown best at high altitudes and common in Latin America, will likely experience declining yields due to climate change, he said. Climate change is altering the areas most suitable to grow Arabica coffee.

Climate change will  hasten the spread of pests and disease, including coffee leaf rust, a crop disease affecting many countries in Central America. The current outbreak of leaf rust is the worst since the disease was first observed in the region in 1976, according to the International Coffee Council.

Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala’s president, declared a state of emergency in February, saying the disease has affected 70 percent of the nation’s coffee crops. El Salvador and Brazil also have been affected.

As climate changes, coffee production may continue to increase in cost, affecting millions of people who rely on coffee for their financial wellbeing, Cervone said.

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