African Coffee Farmers Move To Highlands To Avoid Climate Change Effects

Written by Kevin Mwanza

Coffee farmers are moving to highlands in an effort to escape climate change, which according to researchers has contributed to increased diseases and pests and shift in growing conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in their first estimates for the season.

This, the USDA said, will help keep coffee output from the continent at near it record high despite a production drop of about one million bags from the region’s top producer — Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, reported.

Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer on the continent followed by Uganda.

According to the bureau’s report, Africa is expected to produce 11.97 million bag of the commodity in the 2016-17 season, down from all-time high of 12.91 million bag harvested in the 2015-16 season.

Ethiopia’s output is expected to rise for the ninth straight year to a new record of 6.52 million bags, while Kenya’s will recover from the lowest harvest in more than 50 years, hurt by dryness, blamed on El Nino, as well as higher labour costs and the loss of plantation area to development.

Coffee farmers

“Climate change is considered to be a growing threat to the future of the country’s coffee industry,” the USDA bureau said, adding that Arabica trees, which account for all Ethiopia’s output, are deemed more vulnerable to changes in temperature than their Robusta peers.

“Researchers posit that Ethiopia’s coffee production could move to higher elevations as temperatures rise. In fact, there are reportedly smallholder highland farmers who have begun to grow coffee in areas that previously were not suitable for production,” the bureau said.

USDA said Ethiopia’s government was backing research into coffee varieties deemed “adaptable to climate change”.

Tanzania’s output is expected to fall by 200,000 bags to 1.05 million bags, “due to the biennial bearing cycle,” USDA said, while in Uganda, the 2016-17 crop will fall by 800,000 bags to 3.70 million bags.

Africa accounts for about 12 percent of the world’s production, but its beans are much prized by coffee connoisseurs, Mail & Guardian Africa reported.