Java. Joe. Brew. Dirt. Mud. Cuppa. Brain Juice.
I’m hooked on coffee and caffeine, not just my morning mug of coffee, but three or four more mugs during the day. My morning mug is Folgers Dark Silk; later in the day I usually drink Green Mountain Dark Magic (Extra Bold). I always take my coffee black, no sugar. I know I’m not the only one addicted to coffee and caffeine. Coffee is the world’s second-most consumed beverage. The top coffee-producing countries by tonnage are Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Honduras.
Folgers coffee is a blend of mountain grown Arabica and Robusta beans. Green Mountain uses only Arabica beans in Dark Magic. There are 124 known coffee species and 60% are at risk of extinction in the wild. Arabica and Robusta are the most cultivated varieties and both are threatened by climate change. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists wild Arabica plants in its “near threatened” category with the likelihood of extinction by the end of the century.
Cultivated Arabica and Robusta plants grow best in cooler highlands where beans ripen before being roasted. Coffee farms and farmers are threatened by increased exposure to heat, drought, and the expanding range of pests as the planet warms.
Coffee scientists are trying to find wild species that can be used in commercial production before they go extinct. One of the most promising varieties is Liberica excelsa which is native to tropical Central Africa. While it makes an aromatic brew, it is more difficult to cultivate because it beans on 24 foot tall trees rather than bushes and workers need ladders to harvest them. Because of their size, Liberica excelsa trees also takes longer to mature and produce fruit.
Climate change is not just impacting on the convenience and taste of western coffee drinkers like me. The U.S. National Institute for Health and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that climate change will reduce worldwide yields and decrease coffee-suitable land by 2050. Mesoamerica would likely experience a decrease of up to 30% and Brazil 25% in the area suitable for Arabica coffee. Chaos at the U.S. southern border is largely a result of the impact of climate change on Central American coffee production. The World Bank estimates that over 200 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Mesoamerica, Eastern Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific will be forced to leave their homelands by 2050.
To grow and ripen, coffee beans depend on a specific sequence of seasons and when climate change alters the pattern coffee production declines. Because Guatemala borders both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, it is especially hard hit by tropical storms, either when they reach landfall or when they don’t, leaving the country trapped in drought. Over twenty percent of the population of Guatemala now faces dangerously high levels of food insecurity. Almost half of Guatemalan children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition and it is worse in rural areas of the country.
Another big problem related to climate change is the emergence in the region of a fungus, La Roya, that thrives in warmer temperatures and infests coffee plants. By 2014, more than 70 percent of Guatemala’s coffee crops was infected with La Roya, causing the loss of 100,000 agricultural jobs in the country. So far it has also devastated coffee production in El Salvador and Costa Rica.