Climate change and coffee-growing in Ethiopia

Coffee is native to Ethiopia and is the country’s most important agricultural product, supporting 15 million farmers (1/7th of the entire country’s population). In 2015, 180,000 tonnes of coffee were exported from Ethiopia. It is Africa’s largest coffee producer and the world’s 5th largest exporter.


Coffee is one of the world’s favourite drinks, and 100 million people in more than 70 countries are employed in harvesting coffee beans. However, the coffee industry is being put in danger by climate change. Environmental changes due to climate change kill plantations, reduces the quality of coffee beans, and allows deadly diseases such as the coffee-leaf rust fungus to thrive. Thanks to this, coffee is predicted to become more expensive and worse-tasting.

Climate change is already negatively affecting coffee production in Ethiopia. Farmers are reporting that it is becoming more difficult to generate good harvests. This is due to factors such as increased average annual temperature, increased uncertainty in weather, longer dry seasons, and more extreme weather.


Ethiopian coffee is grown in very specific areas. 80% of it is grown in forests, and the rest in sunny plantations. Because of the climatic changes just mentioned, the areas that are suitable for growing coffee are changing. By the end of the century, only around half of the land currently used for growing coffee in Ethiopia will still be usable as coffee plantations.

However, rising temperatures may make currently unsuitable areas (for example, colder, higher areas of mountains) warm enough to grow coffee. The upper limits for growing coffee are predicted to rise from 2,800m to 3,300m. This means that if coffee harvests are to be maintained in Ethiopia in the future, farmers will have to make difficult migrations uphill. This could create issues as some of the land they will want to use might already be in use e.g. in private ownership or as nature conservation sites.


If the area for growing coffee is reduced, the same levels of production can be maintained if the crop is grown more efficiently. Farmers could improve productivity by increasing the nutrient content of the soil. They could improve the quality of the coffee plant by using better harvesting processing techniques. Farmers would also benefit from locally appropriate, cost-effective adaptations to agricultural practices. These could include different ways of watering crops and shade management (since coffee likes to grow in the shade). What is really needed is careful, science-based decision-making, to ensure that coffee production is protected as the climate continues to change.



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