World coffee shortage – just another scare story?

The international press has been quick to leap on this week’s news that there is likely to be a world coffee shortage at some time in the next thirty years, and maybe as soon as next year – no less an authority than Andrea Illy, chairman of the big Italian brand, is reported to have said so to the Bloomberg international business news agency.  This is a story which has cropped up regularly over the last ten years – and one of the UK’s major coffee bean importers has called it ‘nonsense’.

According to Bloomberg, rising global consumption of coffee means that global production will have to rise by an extra 40 to 50 million bags over the next ten years. Bloomberg has quoted the chairman of Illy as saying that this is more than the entire crop of Brazil, and that the world needs ‘another Brazil’ to be able to cope.

“Sooner or later, in months or years, we’ll have to make a bold decision about what to do,” Illy is reported to have said in an interview. “We don’t know where this coffee will come from.”

It was reported just over a month ago by a big European coffee trader that the global industry will see a production deficit of 3.5 million bags in the 2015-16 season. Against this, the International Coffee Organization has said that demand will increase by nearly 25 per cent over the coming five years, and another European coffee merchant has put the likely increase at one-third more by 2030 – however, he suggested that production might rise to meet consumption if smallholder farmers can increase productivity.

At the same time again, there are more fears about what climate change is doing to coffee farmers. This is not a new subject, either – the International Coffee Organisation held a seminar on it a clear ten years ago. However, it is now suggested that climate change is endangering farmers in Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico, and that the  balance of global production may shift from Central America to the Asia-Pacific region or eastern parts of Africa, where crops can be grown at higher altitudes.  The chief executive of Nespresso has already commented that he sees more and more farmers moving to higher mountain altitudes to try and escape the effects of warming.

In addition, Oxfam has now spoken of the likely effect on crops from another ‘El Niño’ weather phenomenon, and even the prospect of a ‘super El Niño’.

However, and by sharp contrast, the British coffee importer Stephen Hurst of Mercanta has told us, with typical forthrightness, that he believes these stories to be the result of misunderstandings of the global situation. He  appears to agree with the European coffee merchant who referred to the possibility of increased productivity.

“It is a complete nonsense, made even more so in that a respected expert such as Dr Illy would lead credibility to such speculation and sensationalism,” he told us. “I find all this talk quite extraordinary, as I have been hearing it the thirty years I have been in the business.

“Really, the underlying issue to the coffee market in the future is yield. It is as with the Malthusean theory, which held that the world would run out of food due to population growth… but vast improvements in yield have now shown the sorry state of that theory, despite huge population growth.

“It is yield improvement in coffee which will be the factor, and that is simply not gaining enough credence. Climate change may well benefit as many areas as detriment others.

“Brazil is just about to harvest possibly a record 60 million bags in 2016, and Colombia continues to improve their harvest following the defeat of roya (the pest which attacks coffee plants). In theory, Peru could produce more high-mountain Arabica coffee than Colombia – and Honduras already produces more Arabica coffee than Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua combined!

“So I am not a subscriber to this sensationalism – I am honestly surprised it has gained relatively serious credence.”

This story originally appeared earlier today on Caffe Connect, the news and feature website allied to the Caffe Culture trade show.
combined!

“So I am not a subscriber to this sensationalism – I am honestly surprised it has gained relatively serious credence.”

This story originally appeared earlier today on Caffe Connect, the news and feature website allied to the Caffe Culture trade show.

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