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Coffee crisis brews a bitter harvest

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

By James Li and Nirupama Shivakumar Nov. 9, 2023

Kavya Desai Art

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world—with it being consumed by almost three out of four Americans daily—but it is also one of the most vulnerable. A vast majority of the coffee the world consumes stems from just two variants of the coffee plant: Coffea Arabica and Coffee Robusta. These two variants are under threat from a variety of factors, including climate change, fungal diseases and environmentally destructive farming practices.

Climate plays a pivotal role in the production of any plant, including coffee. The ideal temperature for cultivating Arabica and Robusta is 18 to 22 degrees Celsius and 22 to 28 degrees Celsius respectively. However, rising global temperatures have led to biomes shifting and thus dramatically different growing regions for plants. Coffee is one of the most heavily affected, as researchers from the Climate Institute predict the amount of suitable land available for coffee production to halve by 2050.

These changes are already impacting the coffee growing world. Tanzania has experienced a 50% decline in coffee production, and Central and South American countries will soon be similarly affected by the changing climates that have ushered in a tide of extreme temperatures and precipitation. Guatemala has been especially battered by these circumstances, leading to instances of over 85% of the harvest being decimated by pests and diseases.

“As coffee production declines, the consistent demand for coffee will put pressure upon the supply chain. As someone who frequently drinks coffee myself, I worry about how shortages in coffee supply might impact the cost for my own consumption. I would be willing to reduce the coffee I drink in order to preserve coffee stores,” Junior Ryan Chan said.

These problems are further exacerbated by the fact that arabica is only able to be grown within a narrow strip of land situated between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, and it is afflicted by coffee leaf rust, a fungal disease. This led to the incorporation of robusta into the coffee growing industry. Robusta is, as its name suggests, far more robust due to being less susceptible to coffee leaf rust and able to be grown in more diverse environments. Yet this still is not enough to stave off the fungus—farmers have reported coffee leaf rust impacting over 70% of their crops, leading to massive levels of die-off.

“As a frequent buyer of coffee myself, I am personally not aware of where my coffee is sourced from. This could be due to the fact that coffee producers find it easier and cheaper to use less sustainable methods to grow their crops, which means they can generate more profit,” Senior Mykayla Liu said.

One way in which farmers hope to revitalize the struggling coffee industry is through innovative agricultural practices such as agroforestry, which is the practice of growing crops amidst trees. This contrasts the monocultural growing practices of typical coffee farms, where coffee is the sole plant in the field. Agroforestry provides shade for the plants and is more environmentally friendly. While diminishing the overall growth of the coffee plants due to decreased sunlight, agroforestry leads to sweeter and more flavorful coffee beans. The shade provided by the plants also assists in lowering temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide absorption by surrounding plants.

In order to explore how to combat the issues within the coffee industry, researchers experimented with planting hybrid coffee varieties. The results of this research were quite promising, as the hybrid plants were able to increase productivity alongside agroforestry. Plots experienced 10% to 30% more productivity, whilst also increasing pesticide resistance by 15% to 20%.

The path to a more sustainable coffee industry extends beyond scientific and agricultural methods; it hinges on the power of collective action and a transformation in perspective. This journey necessitates not only supporting research and funding breeding programs but also fostering a communal commitment to positive change.


About the contributors

James Li

staff writer

James Li is a senior at Leland High School and is a Staff Writer for the Charger Account. When not working, he enjoys bowling, running, and playing video games.

Nirupama Shivakumar

staff writer

Niru Shivakumar is a junior at Leland High School and is a staff writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys playing sports, hanging out with her friends, and listening to music.

Kavya Desai


Kavya Desai is a senior at Leland High School and is a new artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys sleeping, playing video games, and going for long drives.

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