Vietnam is experiencing a really bad drought right now, and if they don’t get rain in the next few weeks, the impact on coffee crops could be huge – maybe as much as a 30% decrease in production this year. They’re primarily growing Robusta beans, not the higher-quality Arabica beans used by all specialty coffee shops, but this would still impact everyone. Producers who typically package these Robusta beans may have to blend in some more expensive Arabica ones…raising the price on the product being sold as well as increasing demand for Arabica.
Of greater concern is that variability in supply like this is likely to become the new norm as climate change impacts these small coffee-producing regions of this planet. The future availability of this crop is uncertain, and while there will always be coffee beans produced, the supply is likely to be variable and may wreck havoc on companies that rely upon it for their business.
Farmers in Guatemala are having a tough time battling a fungus known as ‘coffee rust’ which withers the leaves and can ultimately kill the coffee plant. The president of Guatemala has committed $14 million to help the farmers buy pesticides and receive instruction on how to better prevent the disease, and contain it from spreading. Climate change is partly to blame for this increasing threat, and that brings up the larger issue…in the years ahead, climate change is going to affect these delicate coffee growing regions more and more.
(via the AP)
Caffeine is not only healthy for you, but it’s good for the coffee plants too, acting as a natural insecticide. While people have perfected means of caffeine extraction to produce decaf coffee, let’s face it, it impacts flavor to some extent and adds cost. Which is why a sort of ‘holy grail’ of coffee growing is a coffee bean that has little or no natural caffeine in it. Nature magazine has a very interesting article talking about the efforts currently going into this. On the one hand, you have the approach of finding existing coffee plants with low caffeine levels and use selective breeding to enhance that quality. The problem so has been productivity of the plant, and overall quality of the resulting beans. There’s also a problem with cross-pollination with regular coffee plants. So on the other hand there’s genetic modification, a sort of slippery slope that’s mostly in the news from GM corn (Monsanto, etc). A path fraught with danger if you ask me.
Which makes me take a step back and ask, why again are we doing this? Caffeine has proven health benefits. Yes, some people need to avoid it, but it’s still a bit strange to devote this effort into refining what is purely a luxury crop item, not some basic staple of human existence. Ok so that’s a bit unfair…for people like me it IS a staple of existence, but hey, that’s a firstworldproblem, let’s look at the bigger picture here. 🙂
Growing coffee, like any crop, is a multi-step process that the end users don’t fully appreciate or understand. One step, washing the beans, produces a syrup-like waste material called mucilage. Engineers in Columbia are experimenting with taking this waste product, and using it to convert bioethanol which can then be burned as fuel – in this case, fuel to power generators providing electricity to homes in the area. This also has the potential to result in extra income for the coffee farmers, a difficult business where profits are slim and every extra bit could help.
(via GVEP International)