By Marcel Clement, Director of Market Transformation Europe for Middle East, Africa & Japan, Rainforest Alliance and Board member of the Global Coffee Platform
While global demand for coffee is increasing, supply is endangered, as a warmer climate and heavy rains will reduce yields in coffee-producing communities. If we want to consume high-quality coffee in the future, we need to fundamentally change agriculture practices. They need to be climate-smart.
High-quality Arabica coffee, which accounts for approximately 65 percent of global market share, is very sensitive to temperature increases. A diminishing supply results in price increases, hurting the coffee business; shrinking yields affect the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, thereby challenging the recruitment and retention of the next generation of coffee producers.
From quality to quantity—and back to quality
In the 1980s and 1990s, as the popularity of coffee increased, more farmers started to cultivate coffee, often destroying forests in order to claim land for agricultural use. This deforestation, along with a shift from shade-grown coffee to varieties grown in full sun, was a short-term—and unsustainable—attempt to increase yields and improve livelihoods. Full-sun, monoculture coffee farms are vulnerable to climate change, while tree cover not only provides shade to protect against climate change impacts, but gives the fruit better taste and quality.
Beyond the coffee and the coffee farm, the environmental and biodiversity impacts of deforestation are significant for every human being around the world. Trees provide us with oxygen and clean water, and capture carbon dioxide, which helps mitigate climate change. Awareness of the impacts on the product and planet has helped shift coffee production back to more sustainable processes, with the added benefit of better quality.
Securing coffee through climate-smart agriculture
Cultivating high-quality coffee requires certain conditions, which can be found in the mountain areas of Latin America and the highlands of Eastern Africa. Today, climate change affects some of these premium coffee-growing regions, pushing production towards countries with better capacity for bigger yields, but often at the expense of quality.
To protect the environment and livelihoods of millions of coffee farmers, as well as to secure the future of coffee, climate-smart agricultural practices are vital. There are three main objectives of climate-smart agriculture: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and income; adapting and building resilience to climate change; and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions when possible. To achieve these goals, the Rainforest Alliance works to help farmers implement modern agriculture techniques and adapt to climate change, thereby also helping farming become an attractive and profitable career option.
Consumers play a role
Today nearly half of the world’s coffee today is sustainably sourced, but we still have far to go. Sustainable coffee needs to become the norm, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, the U.S., and other heavy coffee-drinking nations. Consumer demand is one key driver. Many consumers have a passion for coffee, but they need to understand the complexity and impacts of their favorite beverage. A future coffee supply demands drastic change in how we sustainably adapt farming practices to meet climate challenges, and every citizen can be part of the solution each time he or she has a cup of coffee.
Everyone plays a part: the Rainforest Alliance and other organizations help develop and drive climate-smart coffee cultivation; companies make the commitment to source sustainably and communicate this commitment to their consumers and stakeholders; and citizens drive change through their everyday brand choice. Everyone benefits!