Imagine a world without coffee. Think Starbucks chains closing down one by one, and the drink that many of us depend on in the mornings to function simply ceasing to exist. A scary thought, right? With rising temperatures due to climate change, this may soon become a reality.
In order to grow properly, coffee crops require very specific environmental conditions, all of which are met within the “Coffee Belt" in Latin America. However, this area could reduce by more than 50% if current climate trends continue. Not only that, climate change has worsened coffee leaf rust, a disease that ruins coffee plants. Arabica coffee, the most popular variety, is most susceptible to the disease.
“The rains have been heavier. The dry season, it’s longer, and the winds are much more strong,” said one coffee farmer from Guatemala when asked about the reason the coffee leaf rust had gotten worse. “It’s due to climate change.”
Luckily, Starbucks is trying to find a solution to the problem. Starbucks has been working on breeding coffee trees that resist coffee leaf rust, provide fruit faster, and of course grow coffee that still tastes good. They’ve found six varieties so far, a catalog of which they’ve made available to farmers in Costa Rica. But it’s not just Starbucks who’s started programs like these. The Resilient Coffee in Central America Program seeks to educate farmers about these new coffee plant hybrids and convince farmers to begin planting the coffee leaf rust resistant hybrids on their farms.
“It’s a blessing to have these,” says coffee farmer Elmer Gabriel about his hybrid coffee plants.
However, some think this solution may only work for the short term, as our climate is only growing warmer and nature can be volatile, rendering the idea of breeding plants designed to survive in certain conditions ineffective in the long term. Not to add that current hybrids need to be rebought from a nursery once they die, as they reproduce unpredictably. However, more research is being done into them, and new and improved hybrids may be developed in the future.
So what do you think? Could these coffee plant hybrids eventually become a sustainable solution in the long term, or should we put in our efforts elsewhere?