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The impact of the elements on the coffee trade

Agricultural workers, particularly those in the coffee trade, have been faced with tough times as of late, as factors outside their control continue to impact the industry.

A combination of rising temperatures, pests and fluctuating prices have meant farmers within the coffee industry are likely to face further tests ahead.

The problem with humidity

Central America, one of the world's largest coffee markets, has seen trade take a tumble in recent years, as threats – such as the propagation of the la roya disease – ravage crops and put livelihoods at risk.

Higher-than-expected rainfall and skyrocketing temperatures have proved a problem for plants by creating the perfect environment for the coffee rust fungus to spread.

Although similar problems have impacted the coffee trade in years gone by, la roya is now surviving in higher altitudes, which means it is hitting regions that have never felt the brunt of the issue in the past.

What's more, with the cost of treating la roya scaling new heights, governments in Central America will struggle to be able to finance large-scale efforts to restore crops to their previous state after coffee rust hits.

Climate change affecting yields

The rise in global temperature has been a cause for great concern for the coffee industry in recent years. Farmers in markets around the world have seen the supply of quality crops put under great strain as workers fight a seemingly losing battle in some areas to keep their heads – or livelihoods – above water.

Dr Tim Schilling, executive director at the World Coffee Research programme, said: "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."

His comments were made as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published figures which suggested the impact global warming could could have on the industry, revealing that a rise in temperature of 3 degrees C would cut the area suitable for production in Brazil by as much as two-thirds.

Damaging effects of rainfall

Asian crops have been blighted by heavy rainfall in recent years, which has put industries in key markets in Bali and India under serious threat.

Downpours of more than 120 inches of rain can have a significant impact on yields for coffee farmers, causing waterlogged roots, a fall in valuable nutrients helping the plants to flourish and erosion. What's more, heavy rainfall can strip trees of unripe cherries, which can leave agricultural workers with limited crops and facing further struggles through damaged and weakened stems once the water dries up.

Arabica coffee, indigenous to the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia, is less resistant to adverse weather conditions than Robusta crops and is usually more commonly affected by heavy rain and droughts.

Brazil's current problem

Unpredictable weather in Brazil, which has seen droughts in the centre-south of the country and heavy rains in central western areas, has caused trouble for agricultural businesses in recent months – a problem that could see it lose as much as US$4.35 billion (£2.6 billion) in revenues this year alone.

Important industries – including coffee, citrus, sugarcane and soy – have seen yields fall as a result of the issue, so it is likely the smaller-than-expected crop yields will have a significant impact on inflation in Brazil.

This year, the country experienced its hottest January on record, as well as the lowest rainfall in 20 years, meaning trade of Arabica coffee has struggled due to lower confidence among global investors.

Extreme weather also threatened other crops around the world, including Indonesia's cocoa harvest. Freezing temperatures have also wreaked havoc with US wheat growth, which spurred the GSCI Agriculture Index to fall by 5.6 per cent earlier this year. 

Quite what the world's weather and climates will do to these delicate industries in future, only time will tell. But one thing is for sure – it has never been more important than it is right now that we look after our planet.