Coffee and climate change is a recipe for disaster. Since the industrial revolution, the impact of humanity on our planet has become increasingly apparent, though rarely is its influence discussed in the context of one’s morning cuppa.

We intend to address that in the following article, so please keep reading to discover how, exactly, global warming and its side effects could soon decimate the sector. 

Before we go any further, however, we’d like to point out that The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company is already attempting to make a positive difference.

From planting one tree for every online order to eco-friendly packaging, our family-run business is in the process of implementing mitigating measures. But we can’t do it by ourselves. Allow us now to show you the bigger picture.

Climate Change on Coffee Production

Impact of Climate Change on Coffee Production

An estimated 125 million people work in the Coffee industry, all of whom - alongside their families and communities - depend on production to sustain their livelihoods.

It stands to reason, then, that growing Coffee while climate change is ravaging the world is an immense challenge. And its effect on humanity from a social standpoint is, of course, but one part of the jigsaw puzzle. 

Several studies indicate that by 2050, climate change’s impact on Coffee production will result in about half of the land used for its cultivation becoming unproductive.

Rising temperatures are the primary reason as the plants struggle in high heat. This is especially the case for Arabica Coffee and climate change, according to research published in the academic journal Plos One. 

Since the Arabica Coffee plant accounts for 70% of beans, that’s terrible news for brew lovers everywhere. And it gets worse.

Scientists have concluded that the best-case scenario is a 65% reduction in suitable Arabica Coffee-growing locations by 2080. The worst-case scenario is a 99.7% decrease by 2080. Such a devastating outcome would, in turn, lead to higher prices and poorer quality beverages.

Coffee Rust and Climate Change

Coffee Rust and Climate Change

Loss of land to unbearable heat is still only the beginning of the issues the global Coffee sector can expect to face in the years to come.

Other factors, including drought, pests, changes in flowering times and shifting bird numbers (which disperse plant seeds), could imminently take their toll. Also noteworthy is the increasing prominence of diseases, perhaps the most worrying of which is Coffee Rust. 

This botanically-spread condition is caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix. It starts as small, yellowish, oily spots on the upper leaf surface that expand and develop over time.

Rusted leaves ultimately drop so that diseased trees become denuded and have significantly lower yields. Coffee leaf rust is exacerbated by climate change due to crops becoming more susceptible to its transmission. 

It’s happened before and is happening now. Most famously, Coffee rust destroyed the industry in 19th-century Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) prior to Ceylon Tea taking its place as an economic staple.

Since 2012, an epidemic in Central America and the Caribbean has brought about the demise of numerous plantations in the region. The risks remain high for further transmission globally.

Brazil and Climate Change

Brazil, Climate Change and Coffee

Brazil is the largest Coffee producer and exporter on the planet, accounting for a third of the world’s beans. It is also one of the largest contributors to climate change.

Indeed, the current government continues to allow the mass destruction of the Amazon Rainforest while doing little to prevent greenhouse gas emissions, which are higher than the global average.

Brazil Coffee's climate change problem, in particular, is far-reaching. The local sector has, in the past, relied heavily on Arabica plants for widespread cultivation.

However, dramatic changes to climatic conditions, not least drought, have forced workers to replace their crops with the Robusta species. Though Robusta Coffee has its virtues, a sizable portion of connoisseurs consider it inferior. 

The region’s warming is accompanied by unprecedented periods of cooling, especially in the most recent 2021 growing season. More than 200,000 hectares of land dedicated to Coffee cultivation, be it Arabica or Robusta, has already been severely affected by four rounds of frost.

Countless plants have died in the process, prompting predictions that Brazil is about to have the smallest yield in ten years.

Climate Change and Kenyan Coffee Sector

Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the Kenyan Coffee Sector

The History of Coffee in Kenya dates back to 1893. Now, though, it is more important than ever before, with the industry employing around six million people.

Yet, current trends look unmistakably bleak. Average temperatures in the East African nation have risen by 0.3 degrees per decade since 1985. More erratic rainfall, too, is reducing Kenyan Coffee’s quality and yields. 

Despite Kenya producing only 0.5% of global Coffee, the beans are to the market what Champagne is to wine and what Darjeeling is to Tea. Which is why the market needs to adapt.

Which is why the market needs to mitigate the woes that workers have - and will continue to - face every growing season. Much of the same is true of other African countries, including Uganda and Ethiopia.

Ethiopia and Coffee Production

Climate Change and Coffee in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the birthplace of Coffee. Hundreds of years ago, it was here that, according to legend, a goat herder called Kaldi discovered the beans by accident.

Today, it is Africa’s largest Coffee producer and the world’s fifth-largest exporter of Arabica Coffee. Its cultivation provides a livelihood income for around 15 million people, which amounts to about 16% of the nation’s population.  

Like Kenya, like Uganda, and like all other East African countries producing Coffee, Ethiopia struggles to cope with volatile temperatures and unpredictable rainfall.

But climate change in the Ethiopia Coffee industry arguably goes further because it has profound implications on a global scale. If these plants can’t survive in their native land, how will they fare elsewhere as climate change takes hold?

What Can be Done with Coffee and Climate Change

What Can be Done with Coffee and Climate Change?

Forest cover is essential for Coffee because it provides the right conditions for successful growth. It functions by reducing daytime air and soil temperatures while increasing humidity and preserving soil moisture.

Enter agroforestry, where workers cultivate Coffee in forest-like ecosystems with shrubs and trees instead of applying a monoculture in a terraced garden. 

Moving away from Arabica and even Robusta Coffee for another species called Coffea stenophylla (highland Coffee or Sierra Leone Coffee) could likewise help.

This rare wild species from West Africa tastes like Arabica, but grows in warmer conditions and, therefore, as temperatures rise, could be an excellent alternative. Stopping temperatures from rising in the first place, though, is more complicated. 

A global response to the climate crisis is, undoubtedly, required to meet the challenges humanity is up against. While grassroots work has its benefits, governments and corporations must fill the enormous gaps still left.

The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company is in the fight as well. When you place an online order, we (through our association with Tree-Nation) plant a tree on your behalf.

Summary of Coffee and Climate Change

Climatic conditions for Coffee are nearing the breaking point due to global warming and other similar human-induced influences. Places on the front line include, but are not limited to, Brazil, Kenya and Ethiopia, yet the results will affect Coffee lovers everywhere.

The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, where you can currently get around 70 types of coffee, is starting to do its bit. Are you? 

Author: Richard Smith

Partner at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company

Richard Smith is a Tea expert, entrepreneur, and owner of The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. Part of a family of renowned Tea planters dating back four generations, he was born in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, where he spent his childhood between Tea Estates in Assam and Darjeeling.

In the late 1970s, having accumulated years of knowledge in the industry, Mr Smith and his mother, Janet Smith, moved to Kent, South East England, to establish a Tea business in the village of Pluckley. Their early days of packing Tea Bags by hand from chests of 10,000 prompted the creation of the company’s flagship infusion known as Pluckley Tea. It remains our most popular product today.

Mr Smith, who studied economics at London Polytechnic, has since specialised in over 1,000 types of Loose Leaf Tea - in addition to around 70 varieties of Roast Coffee - from around the world. These are now available at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, where everything is still packed by hand and fresh to order, not only to honour tradition but to ensure the utmost quality and consistency.