As the home of the arabica coffee species, which happens to make up two thirds of global production, Ethiopia is an extremely important nation in the lucrative coffee economy. Unfortunately, climate change could drastically impact coffee cultivation in this African country to the point of losing more than 60 percent of current crops.
Researchers from the University of Nottingham believe that the average rise of temperatures in Ethiopia over the last five decades is bound to continue. At this time, the increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius has resulted in uneven rainfall, which has already diminished the fertility of coffee farms in the Zege region.
The study was conducted over a period of three years, and it included scientific measurements as well as anecdotal reports from Ethiopian coffee growers who remember generous harvests taking place on a yearly basis more than 50 years ago. By the early 21st century, such fruitful harvests would only take place every three years; the best hope for today is to see plants filled with plump red coffee berries every five years.
Needless to say, the situation is of great concern for the largest producer of coffee on the Continent. About half of the beans are roasted for local consumption; nearly 60 percent of foreign revenue is realized from coffee exports, which translates into millions of jobs. A great part of Ethiopian coffee is mass produced for supermarket brands in Europe; however, certain strains are specially roasted for Starbucks and select coffee brands that are as exclusive as they are expensive.
Ethiopia is not alone in this climate predicament. Since 2015, coffee-producing regions in the Americas have seen major increases of coffee rust, a destructive fungus, as well as a voracious beetle attacking plants. Both organisms are believed to be thriving due to warmer temperatures.
Thankfully, higher areas of Ethiopia are nicely forested and could provide adequate, cool and rainy land for new coffee farms. Researchers believe that there is still time to migrate the crops, but this will not be an easy undertaking since there are nearly 20,000 square kilometers of coffee plantations to migrate.
One country that has been able to mitigate the effects of climate change on coffee production is Costa Rica, where massive reforestation has been taking place since the 1970s. Harvests are enjoyed on an annual basis, and it is possible to deal with coffee rust and beetles because the forest land stays humid and cool. Sun coffee farms are discouraged in this Central American country; instead, farmers are urged to plant as many trees as possible to attract birds.
Ethiopia would only be able to adopt Costa Rica’s model to a certain extent because the Central American nation has mostly switched to producing select coffee beans that require higher care and more land. The Ethiopian economy is highly dependent on sun coffee farms that mass produce beans for supermarket brands.