Climate Change May Put Coffee Industry at Risk

Coffee lovers beware— a new study indicates that climate change could significantly reduce coffee growing areas in Latin America.

Researchers from the University of Vermont conducted a study on the projected impact of climate change on coffee and the bees that assist in coffee’s growth, and concluded that the world’s largest coffee-producing region could be reduced by as much as 88 percent by 2050.

“Coffee is one of the most valuable commodities on earth and needs a suitable climate and pollinating bees to produce well,” Taylor Ricketts, the director of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “This is the first study to show how both will likely change under global warming—in ways that will hit coffee producers hard.”

The study represents the first time researchers have examined the coupled effects of climate change on coffee and bees at the national or continental scale. The researchers forecasted larger losses of coffee regions than previous global assessments, with coffee-rich countries including Nicaragua, Honduras and Venezuela particularly vulnerable.

“Coffee provides the main income for millions of the rural poor, so yield declines would affect the livelihoods of those already vulnerable people,” Ricketts said.

The researchers conducted the study by using advanced modelling, spatial analysis and field data and came up with a list of strategies to improve coffee growth and bee pollination for Latin American coffee farmers.

The suggestions include increasing bee habitats near coffee farms where bee diversity is expected to decrease and prioritizing farming practices that reduce climate impacts on coffee production where bees are thriving but where coffee suitability will decline. They also suggest more protection for forests and the maintenance of shade trees, windbreaks, live fences, weed strips and native plants that provide food, nesting and other materials to support pollinators.

While a reduction is expected in Latin America, the researchers projected a slight increase in coffee suitability in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica, primarily in the mountainous regions of the countries where temperatures are expected to continue to support coffee growing more robust bee populations.

In the study, the researchers identified future coffee regions where the number and diversity of bees are likely to increase, which could boost coffee productivity regionally, offsetting some of the losses due to negative climate impact.

“If there are bees in the coffee plots, they are very efficient and very good at pollinating, so productivity increases and also berry weight,” Pablo Imbach, of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and lead author, said in a statement. “In the areas projected to lose coffee suitability, we wanted to know whether that loss could be offset by bees.”

According to the study, 91 percent of the most suitable area for coffee in Latin America is within a mile of a tropical forest, with the figure expected to increase to 97 percent by 2050. Tropical forests represent key habitants for wild bees and other pollinators.

“We hope the models we have created to make these projections can help to target appropriate management practices such as forest conservation, shade adjustment and crop rotation,” Lee Hannah, a senior scientist at Conservation International and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

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