How Is Climate Change Impacting the World of Coffee?

Growing coffee is getting harder to do. Farmers in Colombia, Brazil, Indonesia and pretty much all major coffee producing countries are finding it increasingly difficult to achieve quality yields. This is caused primarily by an increase in average temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns. 

While local adaptation and agricultural innovation is helping some to mitigate the effects of climate change, several studies carried out over the last decade predict we’re looking at a drop of up to 50% of total landmass suitable for coffee production by 2050. 

Combine this with an expected doubling of global demand and it’s clear the world of coffee has a crisis on its hands. 


  • Coffee growing relies on very specific climate conditions, meaning only certain parts of the world are suitable for production. This geographic area is often referred to as the ‘Bean Belt’. 

  • Higher temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, droughts, water scarcity, soil damage and other consequences of climate can damage beans and even wipe out harvests from entire regions. 

  • Some communities have already been devastated by these changes, while others have been forced to adapt, such as moving to higher elevations or adopting agroforestry techniques.

  • Future predictions describe a world where millions of people lose their sole source of income and both local and national economies are negatively affected.

  • As global demand increases at the same time as an expected decrease in supply, this is set to drive up the price of coffee for consumers.

Future predictions describe a world where millions of people lose their sole source of income and both local and national economies are negatively affected.

Warmer Temperatures to Shrink Land Suitable for Coffee Growing

Colombian coffee farmer picking cherries from plants

As temperatures rise, the total area of land that can support coffee production is rapidly shrinking. Many locations once perfect for growing coffee and other agricultural products like avocados and cashews are experiencing a shift in climate that will make production untenable. 

Geographic modelling of the impact shows that many of the world’s top producers are likely to see their best areas for production shrink. And while relocating crops to higher altitudes (where temperatures are cooler) may help in the short-term, this isn’t always possible.

Meanwhile, areas outside of the tropics like China—already becoming an emerging origin for coffee—may actually see an increase in land suitable for coffee growing and subsequently new opportunities for farming communities. However, the overall effect of climate change is still predicted to lead to a catastrophic decrease in total coffee supply by the mid-21st century. 

According to a World Coffee Research annual report, 47% of global coffee production comes from countries that could lose over 60% of suitable coffee land by the year 2050.

Colombian woman and daughter symbolising potential victims of climate change

Not all producing countries will be impacted in the same way, or at the same rate. Several factors such as the availability of alternative terrain at higher elevations, rainfall patterns, expected dry seasons and dominant coffee species will determine the way individual regions and countries are affected. 

For instance, Colombia, which specialises in the more sensitive Arabica coffee species, may be worse hit than places like Vietnam where the resilient Robusta coffee species is dominant. 

Also, countries like Brazil have little to no high elevation land that could support future coffee farms. The country’s expansive areas of low elevation used for Arabica production are likely to suffer substantial losses as temperatures increase. 

Unpredictable Weather Conditions

Cloudy skies above Colombian coffee terrain

Climate change is also disrupting weather patterns, causing everything from unpredictable periods of rain to extreme drought. This can massively impact the rate at which coffee cherries mature, speeding up or delaying when beans can be harvested and even spoiling entire crops in some cases. 

Floods and landslides caused by heavy rains and poor soil quality are also devastating for producing communities and can destroy not only coffee crops, but also the infrastructure needed to process coffee, such as coffee drying stations. 

For farms that are already located in steep, hard-to-reach areas, this kind of damage to terrain may make the transportation of processed coffee beans impossible.

Finally, coffee production is typically a labour-intensive process that relies heavily on seasonal migrant workers. Extreme weather and natural disasters brought about by climate change may further limit the available workforce required for things like hand-picking cherries and quality control—making the already delicate procedure of producing high quality specialty coffee even harder. 

A Greater Risk of Pests and Disease

Coffee farmer checking coffee cherries for diseases and effects of climate change

Increased rain boosts activity from moisture-loving insects and diseases. We’ve already seen huge damage caused by coffee leaf rust, with producers in Central America losing up to 85% of their crops in 2012-2013, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work. 

In Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala, a state of emergency was even declared in response to this crisis that resulted in more than half of planted coffee being destroyed. 

Farmers who lack the knowledge or resources to protect against this in the future could see similarly devastating impacts.

A Threat to Communities and Livelihoods

Colombian farming family enjoying coffee on smallholder farm

Over 125 million people directly rely on the coffee industry to survive, with the majority of these people belonging to the world’s poorest communities. However, if we include all workers in the coffee supply chain, such as seasonal migrant labour, truck drivers, traders and exporters, this figure quickly multiplies. 

Add to this the number of people working in the coffee industry in the UK and other major consumer markets (roasters, baristas, shop owners etc.) and the impact of decreased global coffee production appears even more daunting. 

In a very direct way, many will suffer a severe economic blow with no immediate alternative source of income available to them. The cascading effect of this will also severely impact national economies, both for the world's biggest producers like Brazil and consumer markets like the US.

As conditions become unfavourable for coffee, some communities may shift to other crops. For those that aren’t able to, the inability to grow coffee will be devastating. 

Less Supply and Greater Demand to Drive Up Prices

Coffee producer holding handful of healthy coffee cherries

While the US is the biggest consumer of coffee in the world, countries across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East are home to huge (and growing) populations of coffee drinkers. Rising demand for coffee and a predicted drop in supply will likely drive up the cost of coffee in years to come. 

A steep rise in coffee prices may seem hard to imagine with costs having already increased substantially over the last decade, but further increases seem inevitable. 

Both independent coffee roasters and coffee giants are incredibly concerned about this impacting their operating models. Companies like Starbucks and Nestlé have already invested millions into programmes that teach farmers how to grow coffee in warmer climates and use soil management practices to alleviate the negative impacts of climate change on soil quality. 

What Can Be Done?

Adaptive Production

Adaptive production measures can include moving crops to areas of higher elevation where it’s cooler and planting coffee species that are more resilient. However, some producers simply don’t have the resources or time to make any substantial changes to their approach.


Agroforestry techniques such as planting crops among specific trees and forest areas can provide coffee plants with shade from the sun, subsequently lowering temperatures and supporting the production of quality yields.

Hybridisation and Cross Breeding

Researchers have long been working on developing climate-resilient Arabica hybrid varieties that are more suited to warmer temperatures. 

Industry-Wide Cooperation 

Increased support from coffee buyers in consumer markets and industry organisations may slow down the impact of climate change on coffee production. This can involve direct training or providing farmers with access to new coffee varieties. 

Government Policy 

The impact of climate change on all crops and farming communities needs to be managed at both a national and international level as the fate of the coffee sector will have a direct impact on local and global economies. Equally, strategies to support coffee production should not be too reactive and must not lead to negative environmental impacts such as the loss of biodiversity caused by seeking out new land for production.

When you consider that the coffee sector is actually a major contributor to climate change—requiring a huge amount of energy to grow, process, transport and brew coffee—it’s clear the situation is incredibly complex. Solutions must not be focused simply on increasing supply, but also on making the whole coffee supply chain more sustainable and fair. 

The Future of Coffee

Coffee roaster observing drying practices on Colombian coffee farm amid climate change concerns

The growth of the specialty coffee market is incredibly positive. There’s never been a greater interest in sustainable, high quality coffee that can be traced to individual farms. Yet, no matter how much consumer preferences shift, the coffee sector is set to face serious challenges in coming decades. 

Equally, great work is being done to accelerate innovation in coffee agriculture in order to enhance productivity and protect communities from the worst effects of climate change. However, no matter how much investment large coffee companies or government organisations make, average temperatures are set to rise and eventually make the production of coffee in some regions impossible.

By acting now, some of the worst damage to communities can be reduced and farms can stay operational for longer, but the reality is that coffee’s fate is no doubt tied to the collective international effort to reduce global carbon emissions, adopt greener technologies and prevent the warming of the planet.



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