In the last few years, the worst drought in Brazil since records began almost a century ago has plagued the country’s main coffee-growing regions. Earlier this year, Brazil’s government went as far as discussing the possibility of importing coffee beans for the first time, but abandoned plans following opposition from producers.
Production of the higher quality Arabica bean took a hit in the year from July 2014 to June 2015. Prolonged dry spells coupled with high temperatures in the state of Espirito Santo in the two years since have also resulted in lower harvests of the more bitter Robusta bean.
Coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted coffee beans, which are the seeds of berries from the Coffea plant. The genus Coffea is native to tropical Africa, and Madagascar, the Comoros, Mauritius and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The plant was exported from Africa to countries around the world and coffee plants are now cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in the equatorial regions of the Americas, Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. The two most commonly grown are the highly regarded arabica, and the less sophisticated but stronger and more hardy robusta. Once ripe, coffee berries are picked, processed, and dried. Dried coffee seeds (referred to as beans) are roasted to varying degrees, depending on the desired flavor. Roasted beans are ground and brewed with near boiling water to produce coffee as a beverage.
Coffee is slightly acidic and can have a stimulating effect on humans because of its caffeine content. Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. It can be prepared and presented in a variety of ways (e.g., espresso, French press, cafe latte, etc.). It is usually served hot, although iced coffee is also served. Clinical studies indicate that moderate coffee consumption is benign or mildly beneficial in healthy adults, with continuing research on whether long-term consumption inhibits cognitive decline during aging or lowers the risk of some forms of cancer.
The earliest credible evidence of coffee-drinking appears in the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi shrines of Yemen. It was here in Arabia that coffee seeds were first roasted and brewed in a similar way to how it is now prepared. Coffee seeds were first exported from East Africa to Yemen, as the coffea arabica plant is thought to have been indigenous to the former. Yemeni traders took coffee back to their homeland and began to cultivate the seed. By the 16th century, it had reached Persia, Turkey, and North Africa. From there, it spread to Europe and the rest of the world.
Coffee is a major export commodity: it is the top agricultural export for numerous countries and is among the world’s largest legal agricultural exports. It is one of the most valuable commodities exported by developing countries. Green (unroasted) coffee is one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. Some controversy is associated with coffee cultivation and the way developed countries trade with developing nations and the impact of its cultivation on the environment, in regards to clearing of land for coffee-growing and water use. Consequently, the markets for fair trade coffee and organic coffee are expanding.
Coffee under threat
A threat is a communicated intent to inflict harm or loss on another person. A threat is considered an act of coercion. Threats (intimidation) are widely observed in animal behavior, particularly in a ritualized form, chiefly in order to avoid the unnecessary physical violence that can lead to physical damage or the death of both conflicting parties.
Some of the more common types of threats forbidden by law are those made with an intent to obtain a monetary advantage or to compel a person to act against his or her will. In all US states, it is an offense to threaten to (1) use a deadly weapon on another person; (2) injure another’s person or property; or (3) injure another’s reputation.
And even now, across the region, reservoirs used by farmers to water their crops remain dry. State officials banned or restricted the use of irrigation in a number of towns during periods of extreme drought, while construction of new reservoirs to ensure water is stored more efficiently during rainy spells is ongoing.
Coffee under threat
“For the past four years, we have had rain levels way below average. The crops are suffering,” says Inacio Brioschi, a coffee farmer from Espirito Santo.
Brioschi lost half his crop in 2016 and expects production to be 60% below average this year.
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“There is nothing to collect”
Battling drought in Brazil
Footage and interviews collected in early 2016 from Brazil’s Espirito Santo state. The BBC spoke to the same coffee farmers again in May 2017 and they reported that the situation had worsened this year.
A single drought cannot be attributed to climate change, stresses Dr Peter Baker, of the Coffee and Climate initiative, a body funded in part by the coffee industry. However, these extreme weather events constitute a major challenge for the coffee industry.
“It’s not just the fact that temperatures are going up steadily, these major climatic events that can last for months are most damaging,” Dr Baker says.
Climate-modelling studies support the idea the more extreme temperatures are arising from climate change, according to Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre.
Droughts coupled with rising temperatures overall means weather events have a greater impact, he says.
“With temperatures rising across the globe, it’s fair to say that when droughts occur, their effects are often more intense due to the warming driving more evaporation and drying the land more,” Mr Betts says.