Climate Change & Coffee Cultivation: Todays & Tomorrows

When a few million people individually decide on what their strategy would be going ahead, it obviously cannot all be on one page and one particular circumstance. The beautiful part about coffee is that 80% of it is produced by 25 million smallholders, the people who live their life from day to day and season to season. A continuous effort is being made to discover and study coffee, a total of 124 species have been discovered to date, the fact that several species of coffee are wild and we only farm Arabica and Robusta, means that the wild coffee is at risk of remaining undiscovered, uncultivated and lost. The heartbreaking realization that 6 out of 10 wild coffee species are under a series threat of extinction emphasizes the need to understand wild coffee that goes understudied.

Starting from where the story originates, each plant has a genetic component that adjusts itself with the changing conditions. The more the number of species we study, the higher is the chance for us to work our way around climate change. Climatic tolerance is a kinder route over a complete overhaul of every nook and cranny that contributes to global warming.

Plenty of things can be said and done better, in hindsight. All we have to control is today and all we can change is tomorrow. From shortsightedness to over-exploitation of resources, there's a lot to unpack here. But the first thing we got to understand is that small changes make big differences. The reality is that commercial coffee is suffering from climate change, the way forward is not one but many ways to do with wild coffee. Other than climatic tolerance, we also have to consider productivity, taste, market value and ease of cultivation to grow the crop instead of the traditional market crop and trying to meet all of those points midway is quite an uphill task.

There are two schools of approach, in situ and ex-situ. In situ solutions are for preservation on the fields in their natural habitat. Ex-situ is more about genetic preservation or extending the present into the future rather than hoping and creating a future.

In an in situ environment, selective pressure adapts the continuation of the present genetic structure into the future. But the downside is that we do not control that process, we do not get to choose what's the best and what's not for coffee. And for that reason ex-situ collections come into the picture, these are like bits of genetic memory sacredly stored for the sole reason of preservation.

The tricky thing for us as consumers is to understand where to start. The profitability crisis is driving more and more coffee producers out of the industry. Saving coffee will take money, it will take efforts but more than all of that, it will take teamwork. Growing coffee in forests instead of exclusive coffee farms has been a step in the right direction. The money will come from a simple carbon tax, uniformly applied carbon tax will make a ripple effect in generating the revenue for environmental preservation. Coffee production has saved forests in Ethiopia, the diversity is affected but if it wasn't for the caffeinated cup of magic, there wouldn't even be a forest.

Ecological and physiological factors keep fluctuating and for coffee preservation, the only step forward would be to let the wilderness coexist. Coffee farming has come a long way to where it is today, it will get to calmer waters when the tide turns the other way.

Coffee aficionados and experts are coming together to drive the conversation forward, to learn and unlearn fixed rules and to understand boundaries. The way ahead is a long one, but we're not alone, and we have already begun walking. We will get there, we always do.


- Mani Varna from Wobh

Climate Change & Coffee Cultivation: Todays & Tomorrows