Coffee Bean Conundrum

By Alexa Potter

The international, multi-billion dollar coffee industry may be facing its toughest years of production in the near future. Worldwide, 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed a day – this market reaches every corner of the globe and has a stake in most countries’ important/export economies. An incredible 120 million people depend directly or indirectly on this industry for economic survival. Increased global temperatures and their effects are adding to highly variable production yields in places like Costa Rica, Brazil and other Central American countries. The decreased production of coffee beans and healthy coffee plants has begun to alarm the small scale farmers in these countries who completely rely on this industry to survive. The effects span from an increase in fungus and pests to a lack of sustainable land for coffee plants. Examining the effects of increased temperatures in these countries are important to determine how decreased production will influence their economies and, more importantly, determine possible solutions to combat negative effects on both the coffee industry and the countries who rely heavily on their profits.

Farmers feeling the sting of decreased production are seeking ways to prevent their profits from falling and their crops from failing. For Costa Rica, a switch to the more bitter Robusta species of bean might be in its future. However, the coffee crazed population, especially in Western countries like the United States, argues quality and species do matter in the market. A switch to other strains may improve production, but not necessarily make up for the consumption gap. Fertilizer use is another factor that contributes to coffee bean yields. Cut backs on expensive fertilizers may save the many small scale farmers that mainly comprise the coffee industry money in the short term, but leave their crops susceptible to diseases and pests that cause major loss in the long run.

Costa Rica, a country who relies heavily on coffee exports, is now facing the negative impacts of temperature change, disease control, and pest outbreaks on their crops. In 1998/1999, Costa Rica produced 2,149,539 bags of coffee, this declined to 1,580,000 bags in 2008/2009. The steady decrease in production yields and exports over the ten-year span moved coffee down to the third highest export of agricultural products. From the 2007/2008 year, the export value declined roughly $50 million into the 2008/2009 export year. The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in its 2010 Coffee Production, Consumption, and Exports Report state, “The steep decline was the result of several factors including aging of the coffee plants, and reduced rainfall volume during the flowering of the plants in some parts of the country” (USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, 2010). In its 2014 report, it states, “Costa Rica’s coffee production continues to decline, although at a slower rate. According to data from the ICAFE (Costa Rican Coffee Institute), the 2014/2015 crop will be the smallest crop in 38 years.”

Decreased coffee production in response to climate change not only involves the farmers who grow it but an entire international economic market. The status of producers, consumers, and the environmental health are interconnected factors in this industry. Increased temperatures because of carbon emissions effects sustainable land, weather, and growth of disease. It directly affects small scale farming in Central America that relies so heavily on this industry and indirectly effects consumers purchasing the coffee beans in terms of price and quality. This situation is crucial to monitor in relation to our current world climate.

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