It is, quite literally, the beginning of the end. For coffee lovers.
Brazil, one of the countries with the highest production rate of Arabica coffee beans, is facing one of the worse droughts it has confronted in 20 years. It has been reported that more than 140 Brazilian cities are being rationed water, with some cities only getting water every three days.
While this is a difficult time for the people of Brazil, the unfortunate situation also has a ripple effect on the better part of the world. Other countries around the world that would normally rely on the import of Brazilian crops are being denied food and resources because of the drought; and the first and foremost crop being affected is coffee beans.
An interview on NPR tells us that in 49 days, southeastern Brazil (where most of Brazil’s crops are grown) has gotten only 11 millimeters of rain. And farmers and weather analysts alike only seem to think that this harsh weather will only accelerate, doing increasingly more damage to the crops as time goes on.
So how does this affect us, the average, everyday coffee drinker? Right now, it may not seem like it does. We go about our business brewing our coffee or buying our daily venti, not even realizing that last Wednesday the price per pound for coffee reached the highest it is has been in over a year at $1.72 a pound. And, unfortunately, prices don’t look like they’re going down anytime soon.
The Washington Post was kind enough to illustrate this with a very depressing graph, indicating the rise of coffee prices escalating throughout the month of March. With Brazil producing 40% of the world’s coffee, this major loss to their crops is a crippling blow to the world’s coffee supply — and not just for this year.
That’s right. It gets worse.
The prime areas for coffee planting in Brazil have been getting increasingly hotter over the past few years, making the weather in these area less and less suitable for coffee production. At this rate, it is estimated that Brazil will lose 10% of it’s coffee bean crop by 2020 and 20% of it’s soybean crop by 2020.
Now, maybe to comfort some of you, most coffee companies (big chain and independent shops alike) order their supply of coffee beans in mass quantities, allowing some wiggle room in these emergency situations. As many reports are insisting, many roasters have enough supply of coffee beans to last them a few months…but should this drought continue to affect the supply of Arabica beans the way it has, we will all be looking at the biggest spike in coffee prices we’ve seen in a decade.
CCTV News conducted an interview with the president of Hackett Financial Advisors, Shawn Hackett, who empahsized the importance of the Arabica bean in global coffee production. Hackett predicted that this year we will receive 50 million bags of coffee beans instead of the expected 60 million bags.
While many people may look at this number and scoff saying, 50 million bags is more than enough! Over reactions all around! Those people are missing the big point hidden behind the global coffee shortage scare: while it may suck a big one that our coffee prices are going to rise soon, it is even more concerning that the climate in Brazil has been gradually advancing to this point of no return. If the environment holds up the way it is, we’re not just going to see a spike in coffee prices for a year, but permanently. As crops such as coffee and soy beans becoming increasingly more desirable, their production under these increasingly difficult conditions will not be able to keep up with demand.
In an interview with The Guardian, Starbucks sustainability chief Jim Hanna comments on the possible long-term effects this climate change could have on the world’s coffee production:
‘”If we sit by and wait until the impacts of climate change are so severe that is impacting our supply chain then that puts us at a greater risk,” Hanna said. “From a business perspective we really need to address this now, and to look five, 10, and 20 years down the road.”‘
So instead of moaning and groaning about our about more expensive coffee (I’m being a hypocrite, I’m totally going to moan and groan) let’s all stay knowledgeable about what’s going on with Brazil and with worldwide coffee production. This will at the very least keep us in the loop on why we’re pitching in that extra dollar per cup or so, and at the very most, it might inspire us to do something.
If anything is going to motivate me to watch my water usage, recycle, and preserve my greenhouse gases as much as possible to impact the environment positively, it’s going to be the potential loss of coffee forever. This is not even a “green” message slipped into a cleverly disguised coffee-related post. It’s a mocha message. If you do your part to improve the environment then you are doing your part to keep coffee around long enough to proudly see your children and grandchildren one day as addicted to caffeine as you are.