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Ethiopia gave the world Coffea arabica, the species that produces most of the coffee we drink these days. Today, the country is the largest African producer of Arabica coffee. The crop is the backbone of the country’s economy – some 15 million Ethiopians depend on it for a living.

But the effects of climate change – higher temperatures and less rainfall – could take a toll on the country’s ability to farm this treasured crop. Climate data shows that rainfall in Ethiopia has declined by almost 40 inches since the 1950s. And the frequency of droughts has increased in recent years, affecting coffee growing regions as well.

Ethiopia could lose from 39 to 59 percent of its current coffee-growing areas to climate change by the end of the century, according to a new study published in Nature Plants.

Ethiopian coffee farmers are “on the front lines of climate change,” says Aaron Davis, a scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, and one of the study’s authors. He says many coffee farmers have told him that they are experiencing less frequent harvests.

Ethiopia’s Coffee Farmers Are ‘On The Front Lines Of Climate Change’

Photo: Courtesy of Alan Schaller