Peak Coffee: A Changing Climate Damages Colombia Coffee, Raising Prices

A few days after my blog post on the impact of climate change on coffee harvests in Guatemala, Elizabeth Rosenthal of the NYT published an article about the impact of climate change on coffee in Colombia. Here’s an excerpt:

TIMBÍO, Colombia — Like most of the small landowners in Colombia’s lush mountainous Cauca region, Luis Garzón, 80, and his family have thrived for decades by supplying shade-grown, rainforest-friendly Arabica coffee for top foreign brands.

In the last few years, coffee yields have plummeted here and in many of Latin America’s other premier coffee regions as a result of rising temperatures and more intense and unpredictable rains, phenomena that many scientists link partly to global warming.

Climate Change and the Drop in Coffee Harvests

Coffee plants require the right mix of temperature, rainfall and spells of dryness for beans to ripen properly and maintain their taste. Coffee pests thrive in the warmer, wetter weather.

Bean production at the Garzóns’ farm is down 70 percent from five years ago, leaving the family little money.

“Coffee production is under threat from global warming, and the outlook for Arabica in particular is not good,” said Peter Baker, a coffee specialist, noting that climate changes, including heavy rains and droughts, have harmed crops across many parts of Central and South America.

A top coffee scientist, he has rattled trade forums by warning of the possibility of “peak coffee,” meaning that, like oil supplies, coffee supplies might be headed for an inexorable decline.

A 2009 report from the International Coffee Organization that concluded, “Climatic variability is the main factor responsible for changes in coffee yields all over the world.”

Average temperatures in Colombia’s coffee regions have risen nearly one degree in 30 years, and in some mountain areas the increase has been double that. Rain in this area was more than 25 percent above average in the last few years.

At the new, higher temperatures, the plants’ buds abort or their fruit ripens too quickly for optimum quality. Heat also brings pests like coffee rust, a devastating fungus that could not survive the previously cool mountain weather. The heavy rains damage the fragile Arabica blossoms, and the two-week dry spells that prompt the plant to flower and produce beans occur less often, farmers say.

“Half a degree can make a big difference for coffee — it is adapted to a very specific zone,” said Néstor Riaño, a specialist in agroclimatology. “If temperature rises even a bit, the growth is affected, and the plagues and diseases rise.”

The Coffee Growers Federation has advised farmers to switch to a newer, hardier strain of Arabica that has been developed by plant breeders at Cenicafé over the last two decades.

For decades, said Luis Garzón, it was dry from June 1 to Sept. 8 in Timbío. Several years ago, the perplexing weather arrived. “It can start raining at 6 a.m. and go on for 24 hours,” he said.

First, yields declined. Then last year, the coffee rust fungus arrived at the Garzón farm, killing entire fields. “We learned our lesson,” he said, stroking the mottled yellowed leaves of some damaged plants. Now, the family is planting the new, hardier Arabica variant, called castillo.

Read the full article here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/10/science/earth/10coffee.html

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Coffee plants require the right mix of temperature, rainfall and spells of dryness for beans to ripen properly and maintain their taste. Coffee pests thrive in the warmer, wetter weather.

 

Bean production at the Garzóns’ farm is down 70 percent from five years ago, leaving the family little money.

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