A cup of coffee and a bag of coffee beans
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Could coffee be in crisis?

How people take their coffee in the morning is a touchy subject. There are purists who can’t be parted from their black coffee made in a Chemex, others who love to add flavoured syrups, and those who just use instant for ease. However, climate change is threatening the cost of all coffees: from an iced oat caramel latte bought at a local coffee shop, to cups of filter coffee made at home.

Recent turbulent weather conditions across Brazil have threatened the supply of Arabica coffee. Minas Gerais, the region responsible for growing 25% of the nation’s coffee exports, received a scorching summer season with rainfall only 10% of what it should have been. This is following what some have deemed 11 years of abnormal rainy seasons.

Heading into their July winter, the region was subsequently hit by a frost that damaged the already tenuous crop supply. The ice causes varying degrees of damage to plant leaves, ‘burning’ them away and stunting future growth. In the severest of cases, whole plants have to be removed in order to restart growth of completely new plants, which takes years to do.

It is estimated that 1.3 billion coffee beans across Brazil were destroyed in the past few months of adverse weather. The total area destroyed amounted to the size of Peru; this crop would have been able to brew enough coffee for American coffee drinkers for four months.

These extremes of weather have been long identified by scientists as a result of human generated climate change

Vietnamese and East African coffee production have also been impacted by unusual weather too. The former experienced similar weather patterns to Brazil of a drought followed by a cold snap, with the latter also seeing a lack of rain as well.

These extremes of weather have been long identified by scientists as a result of human generated climate change. Droughts (which often lead to forest fires), floods, and cold snaps have affected the entire globe in recent months. However, the impact on farming regions and communities are even more severe.

Brazil produces 40% of the world’s coffee supply, followed by Vietnam whose coffee bean is used primarily for instant coffee. No cup of coffee is safe from a predicted price rise as demand continues while supplies suffer the adverse effects of climate change.

Disruption to the supply chain has already taken effect economically. The price of a pound of Arabica coffee is now double what it was last year, at $4.44 per kilogram. Predictions that coffee production is going to decrease, due to volatile and unpredictable growing environments and rising temperatures, means this price is likely to increase further and the cost eventually transferred onto the consumer.

Beyond impacting coffee drinkers, the communities whose livelihoods are built around coffee farming are also going to take a hit. In Sao Paulo, coffee makes up 80% of the local economy. Farmer Antonio Riberiro Goulart told Bloomberg that he predicts he won’t see a crop again until 2024 and may have to restart growth on the plot his family has owned for over a century.

Coffee crops like those owned by Goulart are not the only products affected by these extremes of weather. They are just a fraction of an industry that is seeing an increase in bankruptcy filings as the weather becomes too unpredictable to allow farming to be a secure and sustainable lifestyle.

Demands for coffee are unlikely to decrease despite what seems like an inevitable price rise

Yet with Brazil still facing economic issues following the Covid-19 pandemic as well, its climate situation could get worse too. As people look to increase economic prospects, many in power feel that clearing more of the Amazon rainforest for crop space is the solution. But hacking away at the natural world will damage the environment even further and help to exacerbate the occurrence of the extreme weather that will obliterate both old and new farmlands.

While the crops of coffee may be depleted for years to come, demands for coffee are unlikely to decrease despite what seems like an inevitable price rise. Two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day. However, people may start to get a bit more strategic about their order and opt for coffee with lower prices, rather than their favourite form of the world’s most addictive bean.

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