In celebration of international coffee day: how sustainable is your coffee (…addiction)?
Coffea Arabica is the most popular type of coffee we consume with exports of Arabica coffee totaling 82.63 million bags in 2021 according to the International Coffee Organization.
As perhaps the most globally traded commodity, coffee has been the main source of income for society in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Ethiopia. However, climate change is predicted to affect the production of coffee at lower altitudes, leading to the global decrease of coffee production and with the market in Africa being the most adversely affected. Research estimates that the arable areas in Africa will decrease by 16% by 2050. Other researchers estimate that the rise in temperatures will lead to a reduction up to 50% of suitable land for growing coffee by 2050. In Latin America, small producers see returns declining due to pests and increased competition leading them to abandon coffee crops. The impact of reduction in coffee production was seen in 2013 in Central America where coffee rust (a leaf disease) led to a declared state of emergency in Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala because coffee farmers lacked the know-how and resources to stop the rust.
The immense global demand for coffee has led to mass deforestation rates in Central America for coffee farming - with the top ten global producers of coffee emitting 21 million tons of CO2 in 2017. Removing these emissions is equivalent to reducing 4.5 million cars from the road - a little less than the amount of passenger vehicles in Greece. Further, intensive farming of coffee beans switched from the traditional “inefficient” production of coffee beans using the shade of canopy trees, which also happened to remove the need for chemical fertilizers, to ‘sun cultivation’ resulting in the need for fertilizers and hence the detriment on biodiversity. Lastly, processing coffee is very water-intensive and the wastewater from this process can lead to contaminated rivers.
Our demand for cheaper coffee leads to dangerous labor practices and the lack of safety and environmental standards.
The ways that individuals can help reshape the coffee market to sustainable agriculture is by supporting non-governmental organizations who work with local communities and farmers by providing training, market access and technical assistance to coffee producers. Such organizations include The Coffee Trust and Coffee Kids.