Tanzania: Global warming brews trouble in coffee homeland Ethiopia

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) - Ethiopia is likely to lose half of its coffee growing area due to global warming, according to a groundbreaking new study published Tuesday by Nature Plants, an exclusively online scientific journal.

Rising temperatures have already damaged some special areas of coffee origin in the eastern Africa country.

“Ethiopia’s highlands also host a unique treasure trove of wild coffee varieties, meaning new flavour profiles and growing traits could be lost before having been discovered,” said the study, pointing out that new research has also revealed that if a massive programme of moving plantations up hillsides to cooler altitudes were feasible, coffee production could actually increase.

Coffee vies with tea as the world’s favourite beverage and employs 100 million people worldwide in farming the beans alone.

But climate change is coffee’s greatest long-term threat, killing plantations or reducing bean quality and allowing the deadly coffee leaf rust fungus to thrive. Without major action both in the coffee industry and in slashing greenhouse gas emissions, “coffee is predicted to become more expensive and worse-tasting.”

The research combined climate-change computer modelling with detailed measurements of current ground conditions, gathered in fieldwork that covered a total distance of 30,000 km within Ethiopia. It found that 40-60% of today’s coffee growing areas in Ethiopia would be unsuitable by the end of the century under a range of likely warming scenarios.

But the study also showed that major relocation programmes could preserve or even expand the country’s coffee growing areas.

“There is a pathway to resilience, even under climate change,” said Aaron Davis at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the UK, who conducted the work with Ethiopian scientists. “But it is a hugely daunting task. Millions of farmers would have to change.”

However, by 2040, such moves uphill will have reached the top of Ethiopia’s mountains. “It literally reaches the ceiling, because you don’t have any higher place to go,” Davis said.

The impacts of global warming are already being seen as temperatures have been rising steadily in Ethiopia for decades. Farmers report a longer, more extreme dry season and more intense rain in the wet season, with good harvests much less frequent than in their parents and grandparents’ time.

One famous coffee location likely to be lost is Harar in eastern Ethiopia. “In one area, there are hundreds if not thousands of hectares of dead trees,” said Davis. “It is a world renowned name and has been grown in that area for many centuries. But under all [climate change] scenarios, it’s going to get worse.

“Some of the origins, what you would call terroir in the wine industry, will disappear, unless serious intervention is undertaken,” he said. “It would be like losing the Burgundy wine region [of France]. Those areas are found nowhere else but Ethiopia, and because of the genetic diversity, the diversity of flavour profiles is globally unique.”

Both arabica and robusta coffee originated from Ethiopia and wild arabica plants are virtually unknown outside the country. The wild arabica varieties may well harbour traits for disease and drought resistance that could prove vital for the future health of coffee crops.

Prof. Sebsebe Demissew of the University of Addis Ababa and a member of the research team, said: “Coffee originates from the highland forests of Ethiopia, and it is our gift to the world. As Ethiopia is the main natural storehouse of arabica genetic diversity, what happens in Ethiopia could have long-term impacts for coffee farming globally.
-0- PANA AR/VAO 26Sept2017

26 september 2017 14:41:50

xhtml CSS