Global warming could reduce coffee growing areas in Latin America by as much as 88 percent by 2050, with the largest declines projected in Nicaragua, Honduras and Venezuela, according to a study published this week.
Numerous other studies within the past five years have shared similarly dire predictions, pointing to climate change as the cause of a potentially dramatic reduction of the available land for coffee production, with even more dramatic affects on the more climate-sensitive arabica variety itself.
New findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focus not only on climate modeling for coffee, but on the crop’s dependance on bees and bee habitats, noting the importance of healthy bee populations as pollinators that help maximize fruit yield and coffee plant health.
“Coffee is one of the most valuable commodities on earth, and needs a suitable climate and pollinating bees to produce well,” said study co-author Taylor Ricketts, director of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment. “This is the first study to show how both will likely change under global warming — in ways that will hit coffee producers hard.”
While the study outlines a general pattern of coffee habitat suitability and declining bee populations, it also notes areas where current climate modeling suggests there may be increased suitable habitat in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica, mainly in mountainous areas. Additionally, it notes areas where bee populations are predicted to increase, which could in turn increase coffee productivity while mitigating the negative effects of climate change.
“If there are bees in the coffee plots, they are very efficient and very good at pollinating, so productivity increases and also berry weight,” said lead author Pablo Imbach of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). “In the areas projected to lose coffee suitability, we wanted to know whether that loss could be offset by bees.”
According to the study, as well as to common sense, tropical forests provide key habitats for wild bees and other important pollinators. This makes areas near tropical forests more suitable for coffee-growing, while underscoring the importance of tropical forest preservation and growth. Other studies have confirmed the importance bees and other tropical pollinators have in coffee plant health and yield.
“We hope the models we have created to make these projections can help to target appropriate management practices such as forest conservation, shade adjustment and crop rotation,” said study co-author Lee Hannah, a senior scientist at Conservation International.
The study’s authors briefly offer the following practices for coffee farmers:
- Increase bee habitats near coffee farms where bee diversity is expected to decrease.
- Prioritize farming practices that reduce climate impacts on coffee production where bees are thriving, but where coffee suitability will decline.
- Protect forests and maintain shade trees, windbreaks, live fences, weed strips, and native plants that provide food, nesting and other materials to support pollinators.