Coffee’s fate is getting jittery as climate change puts growing areas at risk

If global warming continues at its current pace, growing the beans in coffee-proud Puerto Rico could be impossible in as little as 50 years, a new study says.

A century ago, Puerto Rico was a coffee-growing powerhouse that sent its finest beans across the Atlantic to satisfy the demands of the European market. Since then, the Caribbean island’s role in the global market has dimmed, but coffee remains an iconic product, recently boosted by a small resurgence in coffee cultivation.

Now, growers hope the island will make an artisanal comeback—but they first have to figure out how to keep their coffee plants thriving as the planet heats up around them.

Along with other countries in the “bean belt”—the latitudes between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn where coffee thrives in the mild climate—Puerto Rico is projected to get hotter and drier with climate change. Under current warming trajectories, growing beans on the coffee-proud island could be impossible in as little as 50 years, according to a new study.

Can you picture a morning without your comforting cup of coffee?

“Puerto Rico is projected to heat up at almost twice the average global rate, which is something you see throughout the tropics,” said Josh Fain, the lead author of the study, which was published last month in the journal Climatic Change. “The projection for high-emissions scenarios, which is the track we’re on—it’s a very serious scenario for Puerto Rico.”

Coffee’s fate is jittery across the bean belt. A 2015 study found that climate change could reduce the area suitable for coffee growing by half, even under optimistic greenhouse gas emissions models.

“It’s the single most significant threat to the supply of coffee, and quality coffee in particular,” said Hanna Neuschwander, of World Coffee Research, an industry-funded organization that formed in 2012 to address cultivation challenges posed by climate change. “It’s not just because it’s harder for the plant to function in hotter temperatures. We’re also seeing increased prevalence of diseases and pests, which are happier in those hotter climates.”

“We think about half of all suitable land will no longer be suitable [for coffee] by 2050,” Neuschwander added, “and over the same time, demand is expected to double.”

As pests and rising temperatures push prime growing regions toward cooler climates, the coffee industry’s drive to meet demand could encroach on tropical forests and fuel deforestation.

Only about 2 percent of the land throughout the tropics that’s currently suitable for growing coffee is actually used. But warming temperatures could mean that the land is less productive, so as the coffee industry seeks new regions to satisfy demand, growers could push into new areas. A 2016 analysis found that 60 percent of the land where coffee could thrive is currently forested, putting intact, carbon-rich tropical forests at a high risk of deforestation.

Source: Inside Climate News

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