With a rapidly growing consumer interest in specialty coffee, and even venture capital pouring in for successful business models. High quality arabica coffee is here to stay.
1. Ultimately, the consumer MUST have their morning espresso, chemex…pour over…aeropress etc.
2. Farmers who consistently produce high quality beans sustain long-term relationships with buyers, leading to stable revenue streams.
3. Coffee is one of the most valuable (second to oil), and interesting commodities to trade. Also one of the most volatile; savvy commodity traders can make a lot of money trading coffee futures.
4. Large coffee based businesses are spending money now to protect their future investment in the industry. This has a beneficial, trickle down effect on small businesses, who, as a result of this, are able to commercially procure quality, ecologically sound beans from them.
Coffee cultivation is no stranger to upheaval since its discovery in the 10th century. By 1870, Sri Lanka, (formerly Ceylan) was the world’s greatest producer of coffee. Today, however, the region is known mostly for tea cultivation, with 90% of the world’s coffee sourced from the tropical Western Hemisphere. This is mostly because of a coffee fungus known as coffee rust.
According to scientific journal Nature, a “single tiny rust pustule on a coffee tree leaf can produce 150,000 spores, and a single leaf can contain hundreds of pustules. When the coffee rust fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, reached Ceylon in 1875, nearly 400,000 acres (160,000 hectares) were covered with coffee trees. No effective chemical fungicides were available to protect the foliage, so the fungus was able to colonize the leaves until nearly all the trees were defoliated.
In 1870, Ceylon was exporting 100 million pounds (45 million kilograms) of coffee a year. By 1889, production was down to 5 million pounds (2.3 million kilograms). In less than 20 years, many coffee plantations were destroyed, and production had essentially ceased.”
However, because of continued high demand around the globe, incentive was there to restore output as quickly as possible. In an attempt to escape the rust disease, coffee production moved to other comparable regions, allowing it to thrive once again. Since coffee was already flourishing in the Caribbean Islands since the 1700s, plantings were quickly added to the tropical highlands of Brazil, Colombia, and Central America.
According to Noah Phiri, a plant pathologist working in Nairobi for the non profit development organization CABI, “rust has still been causing ever-greater problems,” although in Kenya and Panama, varieties such as Ruiru 11, and Gesha, generally resistant to disease, have successfully repelled it.
Colombia is pioneering efforts to combat fungus and pests using current genetic technology, and could be the closest to a solution. Marco Aurelio Cristancho, a researcher at Cenicafé, the National Centre for the Investigation of Coffee in Chinchiná, says that “the government has supported research into developing resistant strains of coffee through crossbreeding. The introduction of resistant strains, together with improved weather monitoring to help predict rust outbreaks, has meant that fewer than 10% of plants now need to be treated with fungicide, down from 60% four years ago.” The government has also supported work on the genetics of both the fungus, and the plant.
With big players on the scene like Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, and Stumptown, who happen to care deeply about coffee’s ecological impact. We can undoubtedly expect to see investment in both research and education in the countries where they source, as well as supporting Universities with programs to study coffee. *Check out Peets lab studying post harvest coffee at the University of California, Davis, in an additional post.
Your coffee is not going anywhere, regardless of which continent it’s grown on. The financial incentive to keep it healthy and resilient is too lucrative.