Climate change threatens Coffee production in Africa

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BY TISH OUMA

EAST Africa has always dominated production of coffee in Africa, however, concerns have risen over climate change that is threatening to cripple the sector.


Coffee stakeholders in the continent had been calling for more investment in the sector to increase consumption of the beverage and satisfy a huge demand in the international market.

But now, climate change has become a threat to the production of coffee beans.

Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi are among the East Africa countries producing more coffee as these East African countries bank on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to spur growth, enhance movement of goods, people and investments.

Kenya grows four traditional varieties of coffee in 114 000 hectares with around 800 000 farmers in the sector while Kenyans consume two per cent of its production.

Ethiopia, which is Africa’s coffee largest producer has over 5 000 varieties and Ethiopians consume more than 50 per cent of its beverage.

At a recent launch of the 18th African Fine Coffees Conference and Exhibition in Mombasa, Kenya, Board Chairman, Ishak Lukenya with other coffee experts and stakeholders from Africa, concurred that although some of the world’s best coffees originate from Africa, climate change is a real threat that might soon affect production.

Lukenya said the continent’s coffee producers must adopt smart technologies to deal with climate change. 

“Scientists must address productivity, disease control and challenges of pests in the coffee sector,” adding that, “Africa needs drought resistant coffees that are not susceptible to pests and diseases.”

Another challenge affecting coffee production, Lukenya said was the predicament of urbanization.

“Urbanization has taken a toll on the production of coffee which is declining in Kenya, as coffee growing areas have become urban with major infrastructural projects. Plus, elderly farmers in Africa are not encouraging the young to be a part of the sector,” Lukenya said.

He also urged coffee producers and industry players not to sleep but tap into the domestic market to complement coffee sold within the continent.

Anthony Mureithi, from Kenya’s Agriculture and Food Authority also echoed the same.

“In Kenya, we have erratic rains and sometimes none and this is a challenge of climate change. Pests and diseases are also a serious challenge,” he insisted. 

Mureithi added that in 2020, Kenya would also host the AFCA meeting, whose theme will be “Specialty Coffee Markets: The Next Frontier,” where more than 1 500 global coffee stakeholders are expected in the conference in Mombasa for three days.

“Debate will focus on coffee diseases, pests and climate change among other challenges.

Another topic area would be how the world’s largest coffee producers, Brazil and Vietnam produce a lot of coffee thus affecting prices in Africa,” he said.

African Fine Coffees Association (AFCA) member state consists of 12 countries mainly from coffee growing regions and consumers including South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Rwanda, Cameroon, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

AFCA is a member driven association of specialty coffee professionals from the entire coffee value chain from production, trade, export, import, retail, consumers, roasters, cafes to other stakeholders in the sector.   

Currently, AFCA is collaborating with international coffee experts including the World Coffee Research, Global Coffee Platform and scientists to research on drought resistant beans to deal with effects of climate change.

AFCA Executive Director, Samuel Kamau, believes most coffee growing parts of Africa are conducive for the growth of the beans due to their climatic conditions.

“Our soil and ecology are excellent for the growth of the best coffee, but we need good agricultural practices to produce more beans. African coffee is different and unique, but we should focus on quality and specialty for marketing,” he said,

Kamau added that about half of the world’s specialty coffees are produced in the fine coffee belt of Africa which stretches from Ethiopia through Zimbabwe.

“There’s a huge potential from the region to produce and consume more,” he claimed.  

A Malawian coffee expert, Bernard Kaunda said his country was in the process of adopting climate smart technologies in agriculture to improve production.

He urged African Heads of States to support their coffee farmers so that they could cut down on cost of production. 

“Some disgruntled farmers uproot their coffee plants opting for other cash crops including tea and high income generating crops like maize due to cost of the bean production,’ Kaunda said.

Kaunda who also Chief Executive Officer of the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union Limited, noted that the country’s coffee woes started in 1998 when the International Coffee Agreement collapsed leading to lower prices. 

“There was a fall in the production of the Malawi coffee, but fortunes have changed. Production has grown from five per cent to over 50 per cent. Urbanization is not affecting coffee sector in Malawi because most of the coffee is grown in the remote areas,” he said.

A coffee stakeholder from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kambale Kamungele, stressed that challenges affecting most coffee in his country farmers included crop disease, wars, insecurity and lack of clear policies in the sector.

Kamungele said more than 30 years ago, DRC used to produce around 120 000 metric tons but was currently cultivating 60 000 metric tons.

“Policies must cushion farmers from any eventuality, but we lack those in DRC. Bean production has slumped due to wars and more, so the famers are a disgruntled lot. But for the last 10 years we have seen an improvement and increase in production of Arabica coffee,” he stressed.

Kamungele said nevertheless, DRC coffee stakeholders are optimistic of booming business due to current stability in the country.

“Africans must protect their environment and deal with pollution for coffee to thrive. But in DRC, we are not affected by climate change that much due to our landscape, which has vast forests and the Congo Basin cushions us from the threats,” he added.