You won’t find any climate change deniers on the mountains of Uganda. Thirsty coffee trees don’t do fake news. — Phil Adams
These people and the fruits of their labours need to be better appreciated, conspicuously celebrated and fiercely protected. — Phil Adams
In the West we experience climate chaos, global warming, as extreme weather events occurring more often.
A warmer air, holds more energy, more water, storms are more violent, rainfall heavier, leading to storm damage and flooding.
In England, widespread flooding, once in a hundred year event we were told, then once every ten years, now once every 2–3 years.
In the US, hurricanes occur more often, occur earlier in the season, occur further north. Katrina caused huge damage, as did Sandy. When Sandy hit, the emphasis was on getting Wall Street up and running, not helping the urban poor, they were left to fend for themselves. Katrina left a city abandoned, only when the killings and looting were covered by the mainstream media, did the Federal authorities act.
One reason the West is ill-prepared, is austerity, cuts to public services.
In England, most of the flooding was preventable, had the hills been afforested.
Mutterings of global warming, link not proven, then it is back to business as usual, that of making money by destroying the planet and exploiting our fellow human beings, global warming something to worry about in the future, not sufficiently important to distract from the main business of the rich getting richer.
In the US, President Trump has given the go-ahead for open cast coal mining, pipelines bring dirty tar sands oil from Canada.
In the UK, government is pushing a third runway at Heathrow, more road building, fracking, burning imported wood pellets from old growth forests.
Last December, a minor inconvenience of broccoli being wiped out by storms in Spain, supermarket shelves empty, an excuse for profiteering.
In the poorer regions of the world, where coffee is grown, climate chaos is not the future, it is life and death, crops wiped out, in Colombia mud slides.
Konrad Brits, CEO of Falcon Coffees, speculated to me that the blankets of coffee covering the mountains will quickly dwindle to a few, high-altitude islands. He foresees a not too distant future in which high quality coffee is the preserve of billionaire oligarchs. There was irony in that statement, given that many of those same oligarchs have vested financial or political interests in climate change denial, but there was barely a trace of hyperbole.
Coffee resides on a very narrow genetic base. Changes in temperature means it is having to be grown higher and higher up the mountainside to be within the optimum climate.
I have a book, it shows dozens of tomato varieties, same for French beans, same for squash and pumpkins. We used to have hundreds of varieties of apple. Commercially, we now grow only a handful of varieties.
If we look to coffee, the situation is even worse. It resides upon a very narrow genetic base. With rapidly changing climate, this does not bode well for coffee growing.
Nor does climate chaos with increasing rainfall, drought, major infrastructure damage, as we have seen with mud slides in Colombia, a major coffee producer.
Leaf rust, which is devastating coffee trees, should be seen as the canary in the mine, a warning all is not well.
In the Rwenzori Mountains, which form the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west, leaf rust is affecting coffee trees at greater altitudes every year. This insidious progression doesn’t make for dramatic time-lapse images like a receding glacier but it is every bit as real, and its implications are every bit as profound.
Worldwide there are 19 gene banks for coffee, trees growing in fields.
In Costa Rica, a large collection of coffee trees, of 847 arabica strains, about half were from Ethiopia.
When compared to the global value of coffee, the scale of the problem, the plant research is infinitesimal.
The future, agro-forestry, high quality coffee at source, transparency and traceability from farm to roaster to coffee shop, food sovereignty. The trees provide the shade for the coffee trees, they also reduce the rate of runoff, stop flash flooding downstream, help retain fragile soils on steep slopes.