People all over the world often say that they can’t live without chocolate and coffee, but climate change could be putting the future of these staples at risk.
Higher temperatures, long droughts punctuated by intense rainfall, more resilient pests and plant diseases—all could have an effect on both coffee and chocolate harvests.
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Marie Haga is the executive director of the Crop Trust, an international organisation working to safeguard crop diversity.
“The climate is changing so fast no matter what the big man in the US says,” she told Verdict, referring to US president Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the dangers of climate change.
Haga is an advocate of greater private sector investment in agricultural sustainability initiatives to ensure that people can continue to enjoy their favourite food and drink products.
“Coffee is not necessarily important for nutrition, but it certainly keeps us awake and provides income to coffee farmers around the world,” Haga told the Financial Times Agricultural Summit event in London last week.
Produced in about 80 countries, an estimated 125m people in Latin America, Africa and Asia depend on coffee for their livelihoods.
Arabica coffee, the most full-flavoured variety of the crop according to Haga, is mainly produced in Ethiopia, a country struggling with significant temperature increases.
Climate change has allowed the deadly coffee leaf rust fungus to thrive in the region, destroying plantations and reducing bean quality.
A study published in the journal Nature Plants in May found that 39 to 59 percent of today’s coffee growing areas in Ethiopia could be “unsuitable for coffee farming” by the end of the century.
Coffee farmers in Ethiopia are already being forced to climb higher up the country’s mountains where it is much cooler, but “there’s only so much higher they can go,” Haga insists.
Coffee giants including Starbucks offer consumers beans from Ethiopia and other countries struggling to cope with the impact of climate change.
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They should be doing more to help, Haga told Verdict:
Starbucks and other coffee companies should make a financial contribution if they want to safeguard the basis of their business in the long-term. What would Starbucks be without coffee?
The Crop Trust wants more big corporations in the private sector to give money to its $25m endowment fund.
“About $1m a year from that fund would be enough to safeguard coffee,” Haga said. “If companies want to be in business for a long time, I think it is a fairly obvious case and we hope to convince more of them to donate.”
Governments, like companies, are often reluctant to commit to long-term projects.
“Ideally, we would want governments to give us a grant for doing this work, that would be our preferred form of funding, but politics is an even more short-term game so we need the private sector to come on board,” she added.
It’s not just about coffee
Chocolate, which comes from cacao, is another cause for concern when it comes to its long-term availability.
As demand increases beyond the US and Europe to consumers in China and India, a chocolate shortage may be imminent.
“There are only a few major Cacao growers, like the one in Costa Rica, which is in dire need of an upgrade,” Haga told Verdict.
Diseases like witches’ broom, black pod, cacao swollen-shoot virus and frosty pod rot which infect cacao pods are exacerbated by climate change.
Then there are other tropical plant pathogens affecting fruits like coconuts, bananas and lemons, according to Haga.
Coconut is struggling across the Pacific. With regard to citrus, there is disease called citrus greening which they are struggling with in Florida.
She added that crops in developed countries are just as vulnerable to environmental change as they are in developing countries.
These problems are not just limited to poor parts of the world but to the whole globe.
However, Haga remains hopeful about the future.
We need to produce more food, it’s got to be more nutritious. We need to use less water, fewer fertilisers and pesticides. It’s extremely challenging, but I’m optimistic. I see that companies are gradually becoming more willing to take on a greater level of social responsibility.