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The fate of coffee in the wake of climate challenges the 24/10/16

28th September is World Coffee day, celebrated mainly in Canada, United States or in Malaysia, but also in Africa and Ethiopia. Global coffee consumption is estimated at 255 kilos per second or 8 million tons per year and it keeps increasing. Climate change however, has a significant impact on its production.

Production de café


Africa is not a major consumer of coffee. Its annual consumption is less than a kilo per inhabitant, with the exception of Ethiopia where consumption is part of the ancestral culture with 2.27 kilos consumption per person. The continent comes way behind Europe however, the trend is changing.

Sub Saharan Africa is reputed for the quality of its beans. The 3 main producers of coffee are Ethiopia, Uganda and Ivory Coast and the figures speak for themselves: Ethiopia recorded production of 6.5 million tons for the period 2015/2016. This is followed by Uganda, at least 3.8 million tons and Ivory Coast with 417,000 tons. Then comes Tanzania (900,000) and Kenya (840,000), at 16th and 19th positions respectively based on global rankings of coffee producing countries.

« Africa is the next frontier for coffee» according to Robério Oliveira Silva, Executive Director of the International Organisation for Coffee (IOC). In fact, 5th producer on the planet, Ethiopia is renowned for the quality of its Arabica coffee, in addition to spearheading the consumption of this beverage. Today, the country is positioning itself as one of the biggest coffee markets in Africa. In 2015, 127,000 tons of coffee beans were consumed: a quarter of sales of the total volume of coffee sold in the Middle Eastern and African region.

« Africa is the next frontier for coffee »

Ethiopia however, like other countries in East Africa may be obliged to stop coffee production. Why? The effects of global warming. As a result, by 2050, there will be a 50% reduction in the land area which is good for coffee cultivation according to a report of the Australian Climate Institute.

The fate of coffee in the wake of climate challenges

In fact, in Ethiopia, Arabica coffee grows on high ground, in the shade of banana and coconut leaves (just as in Kenya for example), with an ideal temperature of between 18 and 25 degrees. The increase in temperatures however has a disastrous effect. The dry nature of the land promotes the onset of illnesses and the spread of parasites, not talking of insect bites. In addition to this is the deforestation which is ongoing in Ethiopia and elsewhere (South Sudan) fragmented forests, resulting in a loss of biodiversity. In other places as in Tanzania, floods, heavy rains with more or less long dry periods in between do not work in favour of farmers. This complicates their task in planning, organizing their production or simply in the flowering of the coffee trees.

Coffee producers thus cultivate coffee shrubs with a genetic strain which is able to withstand future climate changes. And although difficult times breed innovations, there is a price to adapting in order to continue to cultivate. Creating new varieties of coffee, developing more resistant plants, turning to agroforestry or to other varieties like robusta does not happen overnight. Indeed doing away with the Arabica (which cannot grow in hot weather) to robusta seems inevitable for the African continent.

This is because Africa – and the rest of the world – is witnessing the growth of international coffee chains (such as Starbucks) but more importantly local chains (such as Café Neo in Nigeria). Everywhere on the continent there are increasing signs of such chains being established which is good news for producers who will see growing, indeed skyrocketing, interest from local consumers …


For further reading:

World Coffee Research


Photo Credit: freepik

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