Kiss Your Irish Coffee Goodbye
Widespread climate change in South America and Africa is killing off our coffee supply with a hyper-resistant strain of fungus.
In South America and Africa, coffee growers are already battling with climate change in order to keep their crops alive and producing beans. By the end of this century, most scientists and coffee farmers predict that coffee production could be scaled down so much that it will either be extremely expensive or only available for consumption on a small, local scale (or both).
In Ethiopia, the largest coffee producer in Africa (and the fifth largest coffee producer in the world), the dry seasons have become longer and more extreme, causing hundreds of coffee plants to die. Coffee plants are extremely sensitive to altitude and heat and thrive best in temperatures ranging from 15 to 26 degrees Celsius (59-78 Fahrenheit) and altitudes between 1200 and 2200 meters. While the Ethiopian government and farmers are making efforts to move plantations to higher altitudes, where the temperature is cooler and there is more rainfall, the land available for production continues to shrink. It’s also not an easy task. Relocation takes money and resources—which farmers don’t have. According to NPR, Ethiopia could lose anywhere from 39 percent to 59 percent of its current coffee-growing areas to climate change by 2101.
In Nicaragua, climate change is affecting coffee production in another way. Hemileia vastatrix, the coffee rust fungus (known by locals as roya), is decimating coffee plants. The disease cannot survive in temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius, and in Nicaragua's lush mountainsides where coffee is grown, the disease was kept at bay by cold nights and dry weather. As temperatures rise in South America, the only coffee plants that are spared a gruesome death are at the highest altitudes. Once the disease infects the plants, the leaves turn from a vibrant green to a rotten pumpkin orange—or rusty brown (hence the name). The infection then wilts the leaves and spreads to the fruit, rotting the coffee beans before they fully mature. According to the Guardian, by 2050, the Nicaraguan government predicts that “80% of their current coffee growing areas will no longer be usable.” While the disease can be cured with pruning and chemicals, the pesticides necessary for eradication are expensive and extremely hazardous to both the land and humans.
In Brazil, the single largest coffee producer in the world, the bean could become eradicated due to severe drought—or fires. In São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city, the most recent drought lasted for a span of four years. The drought was the worst in over 80 years, and led to blackouts and rioting. Its effects on agriculture— primarily coffee—were equally disastrous. Some farmers lost over 90 percent of their crops due to lack of water. And it is destined to get worse. As droughts become more catastrophic and last for longer periods of time, the Amazon rainforest could become a kindling box. Whether started naturally or by humans, vast stretches of the rainforest could become engulfed in devastating flames. A recent fire burned for two months straight. Fire affects not only the farmers cultivating crops in the fertile forests, but they also pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and destroy one of the Earth’s primary, natural carbon filters. In a year, the Amazon rainforest alone absorbs almost 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. If the Amazon burns, our lack of morning coffee and Espresso Martinis will be the least of our worries.