Recently the New York Times’ Elizabeth Rosenthal wrote an in-depth examination of the impact of climate change on coffee, as seen through the eyes of a Colombian farming family. The article points out something we’ve been hearing from farmers for years; the weather is getting less and less predictable, and it’s impacting coffee. What is happening specifically is not so much a warming per se, although that is happening as well. What’s really changing is the increasingly erratic occurrence of the wet and dry seasons. Increasingly, the rainy season starts late, or early. Or it starts, and then stops. And then starts again. For arabica coffee in particular, which is an extremely sensitive plant, this means that the typical rhythm of blossoming, pollination, fruiting, ripening, and harvesting gets all mixed up.
For decades, said Luis Garzón, who started growing coffee at 7, it was dry from June 1 to Sept. 8 in Timbío. Several years ago, the perplexing weather arrived. “It can start raining at 6 a.m. and go on for 24 hours,” he said. First, yields declined. Then last year, the coffee rust fungus arrived at the Garzón farm, killing entire fields.
These erratic shifts in weather not only impact the successful blossoming and fruiting of coffee trees, which rely on a thorough soaking to prompt blossoming, and then a long, extended dry period to allow for ripening, but the gradual increase in temperature also increases the rate at which coffee fruit ripens, thereby reducing the complexity of sugar formation and the flavor of the bean.
For coffee farmers everywhere, these changes make it harder and harder to produce a consistent supply of high quality beans. This results in a relative shortage of great coffee, and consequently, an increase in prices, a topic which has also been getting front-page coverage lately.
For our part, we’ve embarked on a series of climate-change adaptation efforts with our partner cooperatives, most prominently in Rwanda. The goal of these projects is to increase the local ecosystems ability to mitigate the impact of climate change. For example, by increasing shade cover and preventing flooding through the construction of swales, farmers can increase their farms ability to absorb rain water during the wet season and hold it though the dry season. The shade also serves as a ceiling of sorts, protecting the coffee underneath from powerful deluges and also trapping cool air that can significantly reduce the temperature on the farm, thereby increasing the time it takes fruit to ripen, even though overall temperatures are increasing. The hope is that by creating long-lasting relationships with farmers, and supporting their efforts with innovative approaches to challenges like climate change, we will be able to meet and adapt to climate change while keeping our partners and ourselves in business, and you, our customer, supplied with a great cup of coffee.
Please read more about our efforts, and if you’re interested, post us a question or a comment below.