Ethiopia’s coffee is the latest victim of climate change

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In the future, climate change will make your allergies more miserable, likely flood the basement of your beach house, and possibly screw up your morning supply of irreplaceable caffeine — at least if you get your coffee from Ethiopia.

By the end of this century, increasing temperatures could make it impossible to grow coffee in about half of the country’s coffee-growing areas, according to a study published today in Nature Plants. That’s because Arabica coffee trees (which are grown in Ethiopia) require pretty mild temperatures to survive, ideally between 59 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate projections show that Ethiopia will generally become warmer and drier, and that means that 40 to 60 percent of areas where coffee is currently grown won’t be suitable to grow the beans, the study says.


Everyday Life In Ethiopia

A woman roasts coffee beans in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2013.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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In fact, climate change is already hurting Ethiopia’s coffee growers: days and nights are already warmer, and the weather is more unpredictable and extreme. Hot days are hotter and rainy days are rainier. That leads to more unpredictable harvests and it hurts the local economy. Ethiopia is Africa’s biggest coffee producer and the world’s fifth largest coffee exporter, with 15 million Ethiopians living off coffee farming. Climate change risks disrupting the country’s future.

But there is a way Ethiopia can brace for its brewing troubles. The study found that rising temperatures will turn swaths of land at higher elevation into just the right places to grow coffee in the future. In fact, coffee farming could increase four fold if plantations are moved uphill, the study says. But to do that, the country needs to prepare: millions of farmers can’t just take their crops and move to land they don’t own. You need careful planning.

The study has limitations. It’s based on climate models and projections that always leave room for uncertainty. But it also shows that there’s potential to save Ethiopia’s coffee industry. Step number one would obviously be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to try and keep climate change in check. In the meantime, this study shows how the country can prepare for the worst.

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