The Coffee Industry Needs Regenerative Agriculture

farmer looking at coffee field

Coffee is one of the numerous foods threatened by climate change and would be catastrophic to consumers and farmers. With 2.25 billion cups poured daily (, coffee is more than a beverage. It’s a communal center, a connoisseur’s topic, and an industrial monster created by tiny farmers. 

Coffee supports 120 million people worldwide. Unfortunately, warming temperatures and changing agricultural zones will damage the coffee business. 

Even as climate change threatens to make coffee-growing territory uninhabitable, the coffee business damages the environment. One cup of beans requires 39 gallons of water (PDF). 

Monoculture coffee producers continue deforesting the world’s rainforests, which help stabilize CO2 and other greenhouse gases. 

As climate change affects coffee, producers and researchers are embracing more sustainable forms of growth and production.

For example, planting trees with coffee is termed agroforestry (a technique used in regenerative agriculture). This strategy produces shade and protection, nutrient-rich soil, and balances deforestation caused by planting coffee in the broad sun.

However, the destiny of coffee and its millions of small-scale growers hangs in the balance, according to some experts. 

Researchers Predict Less Coffee-Growing Land by 2050

A 2022 research (study) projected climate change would reduce coffee-growing territory by half in 30 years. Arabica coffee is mostly to blame.

Arabica grows throughout Central and South America, southern Asia, and Central and West Africa. Climate change affects this type, too. 

Coffee Arabica plant blossom

As the “Bean Belt” continues to warm at an alarming rate, optimal conditions for growing coffee trees—64 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit for Arabica—will become unsuitable.

Farmers looking for alternate growing locations must evaluate elevation, soil pH and texture, dry season duration, and rain levels (rainwater harvesting may become more important). 

New Coffee Areas Will Arise as Traditional Ones Perish

Higher temperatures in mountainous coffee-growing areas may drive growers to relocate higher up the slopes. Unfortunately, finding land for this isn’t easy.

In addition, farmers might lose years of output if they need to locate new property since coffee plants take three to four years to develop berries (which contain coffee beans). 

Transitioning to higher terrain is a short-term solution to hostile growth circumstances, but the accessible area reduces as you get closer to the mountain’s top. Farmers will run out of the growing area, which might worsen the habit of deforesting rainforests for coffee fields. 

Single-Origin Coffee Quality May Deteriorate

The soil’s pH and how rapidly sugars and acids form in the coffee berry impact flavor and quality. The coffee’s origin also affects taste. Specialists and casual users like single-origin coffee for its quality and taste.

Most single-origin kinds are finicky Arabica beans, recognized for their rich flavors and smells. Their heartier relative, robusta, is less popular. 

As coffee-growing territories diminish, single-origin, high-quality coffees vanish. These coffees depend on their region and growing circumstances.

Rising temperatures, pests, and illnesses worsened by climate change reduce Arabica bean quality or destroy trees. In 2021, its price jumped 43%. 

The Supply Chain Is Being Strained by Changing Seasons

Extreme weather has disrupted growing and dry seasons. For example, in 2021, Brazil had July frosts, and its dry season is expected to begin early in 2022, resulting in 40% lower Arabica yields.

This loss equates to two-thirds of American coffee consumption, causing Arabica bean prices to spike as supply dwindles and demand rises. 

Many Brazilian roasters switched to robusta beans during the crisis. However, robusta is a bitterer, less attractive bean than Arabica. 

Coffee’s Taste Is Affected by Water Stress, Temperature, and Light

The proper growth conditions are needed for coffee trees to flourish and for their beans to have the tastes and fragrances coffee consumers appreciate. Altitude and light exposure affect coffee quality, according to a 2021 study (link). 

Coffee’s taste and fragrance improve with altitude. Increasing light exposure—a hallmark of monoculture farms where coffee is produced in dense rows in full sun— causees a decrease in caffeine levels and overall quality.

Farmers and scientists found that reverting to historical coffee cultivation procedures may produce the best outcomes. Agroforestry combines coffee plantations with forests to provide shade and shelter.

Coffee cultivated using this approach had higher pH and potassium levels, two variables threatened by increasing global temperatures. Agroforestry might improve coffee quality by minimizing sun exposure and creating a nutrient-rich environment. 

Rust Is Spreading

Coffee leaf rust wiped out Sri Lanka’s (then Ceylon’s) coffee industry for 20 years in the late 1800s. Rust infects coffee tree leaves hours after spores land on them. Orange dust covers penetrate and destroys leaves, forcing them to fall off the tree. This prevents the tree from blossoming and setting coffee berries. 

Rising temperatures, high humidity, and high winds promote the fungus’ reproduction and spread. COVID-19 makes coffee leaf rust worse. Rust epidemics have been connected to agricultural labor shortages, tight borders, and resource constraints. 

Coffee Berry Borer Spreads

The coffee berry borer costs $500 million yearly losses due to climate change ( In the 16th and 17th centuries, the pest spread to other coffee-producing regions. Hawaii discovered coffee berry borers in 2010. They’re in all coffee-growing areas except PNG and Nepal. 

The coffee berry borer consumes the berry and deposits its eggs within it, destroying the beans, lowering output, and weakening the plant. As a result, the borer may kill smallholder coffee producers’ entire harvests. As temperatures increase, the bug spreads. 

Natural Calamities Might Destroy Sensitive Coffee Harvests

Hurricanes, floods, and droughts have worsened and will continue to decline. For example, hurricanes Eta and Iota hit Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, and Guatemala in 2020, killing over 200 and displacing hundreds of thousands. 

In addition, 25,000 acres of coffee farmland were wrecked (

In 2016, droughts wiped off many smallholder farmers’ coffee harvests in Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee producer. As a result, many generations-old coffee plantations have closed or switched to less water-intensive crops to survive. 

New Hybrid Coffee Plants May Be Climate-Change-Resistant

growing coffee plants

Several groups are researching hybrid coffee varietals to make coffee plants more resistant to harsh weather conditions while keeping taste. For example, arabica coffee, which is flavorful but less sustainable, will be made heartier. 

The EU is supporting a project named BREEDCAFS to produce adaptable hybrid cultivars that, when combined with agroforestry, might endure climate change.

For example, combining shade management with shade-tolerant hybrid cultivars might reduce heat and sun exposure while yielding beans with rich smells and acidic tastes. 

Wild Coffee Could Take Over

Despite just two bean kinds dominating the coffee industry, over 100 wild coffee species flourish in woods. While many don’t taste like Arabica brews, a handful has exquisite flavor and climatic endurance. 

Coffea stenophylla passed the taste test of experienced coffee judges and can handle greater temperatures than arabica plants. Researchers found this species in Sierra Leone’s tropical woodlands in 2018. Coffee growers are sowing seedlings to see whether stenophylla can replace Arabica.

Last Updated on September 24, 2022 by Davin