Coffee is in danger of being economically unsustainable, and climate change is putting global supplies at risk  ©Getty Images
Coffee is in danger of being economically unsustainable, and climate change is putting global supplies at risk ©Getty Images

Global focus on… coffee

It’s not just farmed coffee that is under threat. With 60% of wild species facing extinction, we can expect prices to  increase as demand continues to grow.   

Perky goats

The exact origin of coffee is disputed but one account credits Ethiopian goats for the discovery. Legend has it that a goatherd noticed his charges became more animated after eating a bush with red berries (or ‘cherries’ as they are known). 

World’s first brew

The berries collected by the goatherd were then thrown into the fire by a local monk claiming they were the ‘work of the devil’, and when the resulting ‘roasted’ berries were mixed with water, the first cup of coffee was born. 

Fair to farmers

Trading under a Fairtrade logo should ensure farmers are paid a minimum price, but many large company buyers do not offer this guarantee. A report from Fairtrade France and Repenser les Filières highlighted how the value often fails to trickle down to farmers. 

Trade surplus

Two years of coffee surpluses have forced prices down to a 12-year low. In 2018/19, estimates put production at 167.47m bags, exceeding global consumption. However, demand continues to grow.


Brazil is the largest coffee producer in the world. Its 2018/19 harvest is estimated to hit a record high of 61.7m bags. Brazil’s bumper crop has played a big part in driving down international coffee prices, meaning less profit for farmers.

Vietnam is second

The second largest producer is Vietnam, which harvested 29.5m bags in 2018/19 despite poor weather. Colombia is the third largest global producer, with an estimated 14.2m bags for 2018/19.  

Moveable feast

Concerns that climate change could decimate coffee crops are not entirely unfounded. But there is hope. Scientists are testing ‘climate-resistant’ varieties in countries not known for growing coffee, such as Australia.

Extinction risk

Many varieties of wild coffee, important for breeding new varieties, are at risk of extinction. A study of 124 species shows climate change, deforestation, pests and fungal pathogens are an ever-growing threat. 

What they say

“Coffee is at risk not just from… climate change but… [also from] the lack of economic sustainability of millions of coffee growers.”
Joint open letter from coffee farmers’ associations around the world

“We do not have a minimum price guarantee like Fairtrade but we do offer the most competitive prices in an open marketplace, paying premiums for farmers who supply us with high quality and responsibly sourced coffee.”
Nestlé spokesperson, as told to Food Navigator

“Demand for coffee is expected to double by 2050 and… more than half the world’s suitable coffee land will be pushed into unsuitability due to climate change. [We] will need up to 180m more bags of coffee… than we are likely to have.”
Greg Meenahan, partnership director at World Coffee Research, as told to The Guardian


Demand for coffee has never been greater as its popularity in the developed world shows no signs of waning. However, low trade prices, supported by current surpluses, may start to shift as the impact of climate change, pests and diseases hit. In future, prices may be affected as coffee farmers, based mostly in developing countries, question their choice of crop. Some make a decent living via Fairtrade but many buyers representing big coffee brands don’t use this system, which has encouraged some growers to ditch coffee for something more profitable. That said, the change is likely to be gradual, at first at least, and consumers will always want their morning cuppa.

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