Coffee could become a luxury in the UK within 30 years because of climate change, farmers warn

A salesman hold roasted coffee beans at a stand at the Coffee Fair in Lima, Peru. (Reuters)

Coffee could become a luxury in the UK within 30 years if no help is given to farmers who are suffering because of climate change.

Rising global temperatures and increased humidity have forced farmers to abandon their crops in countries like Peru as they struggle to harvest healthy crops, according to Fairtrade.

Farmers are struggling to grow the Arabica bean, which is used in thousands of Britons’ daily flat whites and cappuccinos, as pests and disease trigger smaller harvests of lower-quality beans.

They are also being forced to grow the delicate plant on ever-higher, cooler land, as rising annual average temperatures render large swathes of ground unsuitable.

A woman selects coffee beans at a farm in the San Martin region of Peru. (Reuters)

By 2050, up to half the land currently used globally to grow coffee could have become unusable for this purpose, experts predict.

The environmental cost of this could be dire, with increased deforestation likely in order to clear new areas for coffee farms.

Experts fear the quality of coffee could be diminished as farmers turn to new varieties, and that lower production volumes could cause prices to increase.

Catherine David, head of commercial partnerships at Fairtrade, said the UK public “really expect businesses to be paying a fair price for their coffee – this isn’t a nice-to-have for them”.

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She said: “While now coffee sales have grown and it’s a very popular product and we can pick up coffee from all different price ranges, I think if we don’t invest now then coffee could become a luxury, longer term.

“Because if 50% of land currently used for coffee isn’t going to be suitable for it by 2050, and coffee farmers are abandoning their farms, there simply won’t be enough coffee, and so we could, conceivably, get to a point where coffee is no longer available for, say, £1.50 at Greggs, but becomes a premium product for only those who can afford to enjoy it.

“It really is a crisis we are facing and I think it’s one that, if the UK public were more aware of, they’d be pretty scandalised that brands, retailers and coffee shops that they are buying their coffee from aren’t doing more.”

The poorest farmers are being hit the hardest, because they cannot invest profits in tools to improve the soil or buy new plants.

In places such as Tarapoto, farmers have even returned to growing the coca plant, the raw material for cocaine, despite a Government initiative to reduce production.

Norandino, a Fairtrade co-operative representing the largest number of farmers in Peru, about 7,000, said extreme rainfall two years ago destroyed crops and caused buildings to crumple in the north west region Piura.

Its headquarters were flooded with water, and members fear the region may become uninhabitable in the future.

It buys coffee from its producers at a minimum price higher than the current market rate, but many not in co-operatives are without this vital safety net.

In Montero, a valley district in Piura, leaf rust disease has continued to diminish yields after a devastating outbreak five years ago.

The disease, which has been exacerbated by climate change, covers the leaves with orange dust and causes them to fall off, stopping the plant photosynthesising.

Farmers replaced many of their crops with the catimor variety, which is resistant to the rust but vulnerable to the brown eye fungus, which has also become more common due to rising temperatures.

Over the last five years, coffee production in the area shrank from 80% to 20%, with many now turning to the more-resilient sugar cane.

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