Climate change and coffee is in the news again. Still a controversy between groups of scientists as to what is actually happening with our weather, any warming affects coffee crops. Few would argue that there is a warming currently affecting coffee growing areas, whether it’s due to La Niña or pollution. Besides raising the temperatures higher than what is good for crops, there is the problem of the coffee berry borer, a pest that can ravage a coffee crop.
A recent study was funded by the German Research Foundation and involved researchers from Germany, the UK, the US and Kenya. The scientists fear that if continued warming occurs, East Africa conditions will be more attractive to the berry borer. Because this pest is predicted to affect up to ten percent of the coffee crops in some areas, it’s a huge concern. The persistent pests are very hard to eradicate and regions that have them have at best been only able to contain them. The predicted threat is now coming to Africa and most critically Ethiopia, coffee’s birthplace. Some regions already must cope with the borer, such as Colombia and other parts of South America. Hawaii fights the borer too.
As little a difference as two degrees centigrade is enough to transition to a habitat for the pest. And temperatures are rising more than just two degrees. In East Africa regions from 1200 to 1800 meters above sea level could be affected. What to do? Scientists would like to suggest plantations move to higher elevations which would be cooler, but there are several problems with this approach, such as lack of good soils at many higher elevations. The other problem is the competition for land with more critical food crops. The best solution is for the farmers to start planting shade crops such as banana trees. This not only contributes to the diversification of the farms and adds to the incomes of the farmers, but it would provide a habitat for the berry borer’s enemies-predators. Basically we’re talking here about increasing the sustainability of the coffee farms.
Shade-grown coffee practices improve the soil and allow for more organic practices. Indeed, the best way to fight the borer is to encourage its natural enemies to do their thing, as in all crop management. Healthier soils also help prevent pest infestations as they nurture healthier crops. Shade-grown farming is the answer for many reasons. The farmers in East Africa need to start planting now to start coping with increased temperatures. Another hope is that the Robusta coffee being bred for drought tolerance will be available in time, and also that the current pest tolerance and resistance investigations will provide more solutions. As long as the solution does not involve GMO coffees…..but that’s another story.