Coffee is climbing uphill in Kenya because the climate up there is more suitable. But there are no easy fixes to the climbing temperatures, for coffee or other crops. Hybrids and wild heirloom varietals had our attention already, and are mentioned in this article from the Middle East & Africa section of the Economist’s print edition under the headline “Hot coffee:”
Other cash crops including tea will also be affected
Jeremiah Letting learned about coffee from his father. As a child in the late 1980s, he worked on his family’s one-acre (0.4 hectare) coffee farm in the hills of Nandi county, western Kenya. The cycle ran like clockwork: cultivate, plant, ripen, harvest and sell. “Every year was the same,” he says. “It was timely.”
No longer. As the chairman of a co-operative, he now represents 303 smallholder coffee farmers who are suffering from droughts, unpredictable rains and rising temperatures that bring pests and disease. Warming weather in east Africa, the birthplace of coffee, is already beginning to harm one of the region’s most important export crops, which is worth some $2bn a year (see chart). Overheating coffee shrubs also foreshadow the harm that may befall other vital crops such as tea, Kenya’s biggest export. And if coffee becomes more expensive or less tasty, it is not just farmers who will suffer, but the big chunk of humanity who together glug down some 3bn cups of the stuff a day, at a cost of about $200bn a year.
Some of the world’s best Coffea arabica is grown on the fertile slopes of Mount Kenya. This variety of the plant, which originated in the highlands of Ethiopia and Sudan, produces beans that are tastier (and more valuable) than those from its poor cousin, Coffea canephora (known as robusta), which often ends up in instant coffee granules. Arabica is also more finicky.
Global warming may shrink the total area that is most suited to growing arabica beans by about half by 2050, according to a recent peer-reviewed paper. Rising temperatures may make some new places suitable for cultivating coffee, because they will raise the maximum altitude at which the crop can be grown, but such spots are relatively small and generally given over to other crops already. Overall “trends are mainly negative,” says Roman Grüter, one of the authors of the paper…
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