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The effect of climate change on the coffee trade

The global coffee trade is currently facing one of the biggest tests in its history, as the effects of climate change continue to ravage crops and leave natives in a state of desperation while battling to protect their businesses.

While the industry itself was worth $173 billion (£104.4 billion) in 2012, it seems there could be tough times ahead, as a combination of rising temperatures, adverse weather and pests wreak havoc on areas renowned for their usually flourishing growth.

With almost two billion cups of coffee consumed around the world every day, the problem is set to have a huge impact on businesses operating within coffee trade, which could find themselves selling lower quality produce at high prices.

Dr Tim Schilling, executive director at the World Coffee Research programme, said: "The rise in global temperature is of great concern for us in the coffee industry because it will – and has already started to – put the supply of quality coffee at great risk. 

"It is also obvious that increasing temperatures – as well as extreme weather events – have a very negative effect on production. Over the long term, you will definitely see coffee prices going up as a result of climate change."

Issues surrounding coffee trade and high temperatures derive from the origins of growth, which took place in the highlands of east Africa, where conditions were typically cool and stable. However, at climates above 23 degrees C, growth is not as strong, which results in lower returns.

A new report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change discussed the impact that global warming could have on the coffee industry, revealing that a temperature rise of 3 degrees C would cut the area suitable for production in Brazil by two-thirds.

What's more, rising climates in the north – primarily in the growing states of Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo – will not be cushioned by increasing opportunities in the south.

Pests, including the berry borer beetle and leaf rust fungus, are also making themselves known in regions affected by increasing temperatures. Central America, for example, has recently seen the latter nuisance savage recent harvests, causing yields to drop by 40 per cent in 2013-14, compared to the previous year.

The berry borer beetle, which thrives in warm temperatures, has increasingly been spotted up hillsides in African countries such as Rwanda and Ethiopia. With the problem expected to exacerbate further in the coming years, including the fact that the pest could reproduce up to ten times annually, the problem is seemingly impossible to resolve – particularly as the pesticide once used to control it has been outlawed.

With at least 1.4 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras depending on coffee production for their livelihoods, it becomes apparent just how severe the issue has become.

Mauricio Galindo, head of operations at the intergovernmental International Coffee Organisation, said: "Climate change is the biggest threat to the industry. If we don't prepare ourselves, we are heading for a big disaster."