Ethiopian Coffee Farmers Are The Latest Victim Of Climate Change


Coffee drinkers might soon find it harder to get their early morning fix as climate change continues to make life difficult for coffee growers everywhere. In Ethiopia, where the popular Arabica coffee originated from, the effects of global warming could prove to be disastrous.

In a study featured in the journal Nature Plants, scientists warn that the warming climate could end up ruining much of Ethiopia's coffee producing industry. Estimates show that as much as 39 to 59 percent of the country's Arabica coffee regions could be lost by the end of the century.

This prediction is particularly alarming since coffee growing is the primary source of income for many Ethiopians. In fact, the entire industry serves as the backbone of the country's economy. If climate conditions don't improve soon, millions of people in Ethiopia who depend on the coffee industry could lose their only livelihood.

Climate Change In Ethiopia

Higher temperatures and less rainfall have already taken their toll on the Ethiopian environment. Recent climate data suggests that the amount of rainfall in the country has been reduced by as much as 40 inches in the past 60 years. Ethiopia has also seen more frequent droughts in recent years, severely affecting the country's ability to produce coffee.

In 2012, several climate agencies, including the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, reported that Ethiopia could lose much of its coffee-producing regions as a direct result of climate change. However, their findings weren't able to determine the exact extent that global warming's impact could have on the country.

To get a more detailed projection, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens researcher Aaron Davis, and his colleagues examined various climate models and satellite imagery. Their goal was to determine specific regions of Ethiopia where farmers could grow coffee in the next few decades. They then tested the accuracy of their model by comparing data from model projections and satellite imagery with actual conditions seen in the country.

Despite seeing the devastation of global warming on the Ethiopian environment, the researchers identified ways on how coffee farmers could deal with the effects. One of these is by moving their coffee plantations from climate-ravaged regions to newer, more suitable ones in the next few decades.

Since most Arabica coffee trees are grown in the Ethiopian highlands to take advantage of milder temperatures, Davis and his colleagues suggest that these could be transferred to higher altitudes. This can be done if conditions become unsuitable for growing the plants in lower attitudes. Coffee farmers can also adopt other ways of cultivating their coffee trees, such as irrigating and mulching, to make up for the relocation.

While the study offers a possible solution to the problem, the authors admit that carrying it out wouldn't be so easy. It would take a considerable amount of resources and coordination for the farmers to transfer their coffee plantations to higher altitudes.

Unfortunately, not all coffee farmers in Ethiopia have the funds or capabilities to move their plantations elsewhere. Most of them are smallholder farms that don't even have the means to mitigate the impact of global warming.

The researchers suggest that some long-term investment should be made to maintain the production of coffee. Doing so would help protect the people of Ethiopia, the environment, as well as the country's coffee producing industry.

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