The Future of Coffee: Climate Change Endangers the Beloved Drink  

The world consumes about 500 billion cups of coffee every year, but by 2050 the land that can sustain coffee cultivation will be reduced by 50%.  Read an interview with coffee producer in Central American and the Caribbean. 

Student Commentary

By Julissa Castro-Ruiz / Matthew staff || Edited by Bronte Delmonico 

Finca Altamira implements high working conditions and digitalization of technology to counter climate related challenges.  
Photo by Julissa Castro-Ruiz. 

The fruit grown by millions of farmers across Latin America, Africa, and Asia has become a staple in everyone’s daily routine. The world consumes about 500 billion cups of coffee every year. But the drink that is cherished by many around the world is at risk of extinction because of climate change. Recent studies estimate that by 2050 the land that can sustain coffee cultivation will be reduced by 50%. The phenomenon has already affected Colombia, the second-largest producer of Arabica coffee, where the country has seen changing climate, altering precipitation patterns that directly affect the soil, the harvest volumes, and even the fruit taste, making farmers change their production techniques. Sixty percent of the wild coffee species could be at risk of extinction because of climate change as the regions continue to be affected by natural disasters. The decrease in the production of arabica increases the prices of the fruit.   

In Central America, a region where coffee plays an important role in the countries’ economy, coffee plantations have been affected by the climate, leading to major economic and material losses that leave many without a job and no other option than migrating to northern countries. In 2020 the region was affected by two hurricanes that hit the region in the latter half of the year. According to the International Coffee Organization, Eta and Iota damaged large areas of the coffee regions in Nicaragua and Honduras, causing landslides and flooding. Nicaragua saw 15% of the land used for coffee cultivation affected. The hurricanes placed more infrastructure decay pressure on the countries which had already been affected by economic devastation brought by the pandemic, leading to many habitants of the rural side migrating to other countries in search of economic opportunities.  

Coffee is among the many industries being affected because of climate change. With climate change affecting Central American countries’ production of coffee, the workers have no other choice than to move north. The United States, which receives most of these migrants, doesn’t have any immigration laws in place that protect those “climate refugees.” The 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees don’t include Climate change as a reason for asylum-seeking, which leave the Climate Refugees unprotected. The convention and protocol are the laws that cover the most important aspects of a refugee’s life. As the rise of climate migration continues, the lack of workers in the rural side is causing great losses to coffee cultivation, leading to a worldwide surge in the price of coffee.   

Interview with José De La Paz, Coffee Producer/Bayer Small Holders Project Lead Central American & Caribbean. Conducted March 31st   

From a personal experience, how has climate change affected your farms?   

Climate change is bringing challenges for both small and big producers. The frequency of precipitation and the extension of the summers are all currently being manifested in the region with the proliferation of plagues and new diseases for the plants, like coffee rust, “Hemileia vastatrix”, that due to high altitude and humidity has proliferated at a higher rate in the past year.   

What will be the long-term consequences and challenges of these changes?  

In 2019 Honduras produced 7.5 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee. But in 2023, the Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) reports production of 5.4 million 60-kilogram bags, presenting a 17% reduction from previous years. This is worrying, as coffee represents almost 5% of Honduras’s GDP. So, it is not a matter of when the repercussions will happen but what we can do to relieve some of the economic and environmental pressure. We are dealing with the consequences now. Most farms followed Columbian practices of producing coffee without shade which are the plantations that have seen the harshest consequences. Cultivating coffee without shade increases production by up to 40%, but now we are facing the consequences. There is also a decrease in water in the aquifers at the coffee plantations. The consequences will not only affect the producers but will also disrupt the food security of the nation.   

Climate change has brought a new wave of Climate Migration affecting production in many plantations. What are measures your plantation or Honduras Plantations take to counter this?  

Migration has always existed since the beginning of mankind. We are born nomads that move to get the best opportunities. Honduran migration is a complex topic that involves socio-economic and political themes. What people in the rural side see when migrating is an opportunity to better their livelihood. The average daily salary for a plantation worker is around 6 dollars, which for many is used to sustain a family of 5 to 7 people. This has become increasingly challenging for many. This is why they migrate out of necessity to feed their family and give their children better opportunities. On my farm, we always try to implement high working conditions, but for many plantation owners, this isn’t an option.   

In general, we are seeing a digitalization of agriculture as a way to build resilience against the lack of labor and climate change. The use of drones to fumigate and machinery to collect berries are some of the ways many big farmers are countering this. But still, the results of quality aren’t the same as hand labor. We also must consider that while the private companies are the ones that have been providing the most help the machinery is still not accessible to everyone.   

Coffee has created a dependency in the life of many. But the drink that is cherished by billions worldwide is at risk because of climate change. With climate migration increasing every year, the lack of labor will push production down and will lead to an increase in the price of coffee. The cup of coffee which is affordable for everyone can soon become a luxury for many.