(ORDO NEWS) — Under a moderate climate change scenario, the world could lose half of its best coffee growing land. In Brazil, which is currently the world’s largest coffee producer, the area most suitable for coffee cultivation will be reduced by 79 percent.
This is one of the key findings of a new study by scientists in Switzerland that assessed the potential impact of climate change on coffee, cashews and avocados. All three species are important globally traded crops, mostly grown by small farmers in the tropics.
Coffee is by far the most important crop with an expected revenue of US$460 billion (£344 billion) in 2022, while figures for avocados and cashews are respectively US$13 billion and US$6 billion. While coffee primarily serves as a stimulant drink, avocados and cashews are widely consumed food crops rich in monounsaturated vegetable oils and other beneficial nutrients.
The main conclusion of the new study is that predicted climate change is likely to lead to a significant reduction in the amount of land suitable for growing these crops in some of the main regions where they are currently cultivated. In turn, this can affect both producers and consumers around the world.
To date, most research on the future impacts of climate change on food has focused on major staple crops such as wheat, corn, potatoes and oilseeds grown in temperate regions.
This reflects the trend of climatologists to focus on the potentially severe impacts of climate change on temperate ecosystems, especially in relation to changes in temperature and precipitation patterns.
In contrast, less work has been devoted to tropical ecosystems, which make up about 40 percent of global land area, where more than 3 billion people earn a living and are expected to increase by 1 billion by the 2050s.
The tropics are also huge reservoirs of biodiversity, as well as areas for the cultivation of many important crops that provide income and food for a huge population. The new study confirms and significantly expands on the findings of a relatively small number of existing studies on coffee, cashew and avocado crops.
An important innovation in the study is the study of land and soil parameters in addition to purely climatic factors such as temperature and rainfall. This allows them to give a more nuanced view of future impacts that could significantly alter the suitability of certain tropical regions for growing certain crops due to changes in factors such as pH or soil texture.
The new study complements other recent studies on oil palm. Although the oil palm is highly controversial and often associated with deforestation, it is still one of the most important tropical crops in terms of human nutrition, helping to feed more than 3 billion people.
Recently, my colleagues and I reviewed several model analyzes of how climate change might affect the incidence and overall mortality of oil palm. The harsh conclusion was that tree mortality was likely to rise significantly after 2050, possibly wiping out much of the crop in the Americas.
In addition, the major stem rot disease is projected to increase sharply in Southeast Asia.
Amazing scale and complexity
Together, these studies are beginning to reveal the astonishing magnitude and complexity of the impacts of climate change and related factors on some of the most cultivated crops in the tropics. It is important to note that the impact will not be evenly distributed and some regions may even benefit from climate change.
For example, parts of China, Argentina and the US are likely to become more suitable for growing coffee, while land in Brazil and Colombia will become less suitable. It is likely that many of these changes are already “fixed”, at least until the end of this century, regardless of the disappointingly sluggish response of world leaders in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Therefore, we will need to adapt to ongoing changes in the tropics, for example by shifting the cultivation of certain crops to other regions where the impact of the climate will be more favorable. However, it seems likely that whatever climate change mitigation measures are taken, many tropical crops will become more scarce and therefore more expensive in the future.
As for coffee, it can even transform from a cheap everyday drink into a prized treat to be tasted on special occasions, like a fine wine. Conversation
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