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Innovation in the coffee sector grinds to a halt

Resilience in the face of climate change

The primary threat to coffee production is global warming. Coffee plants require very specific environmental conditions to grow, including the right temperature, humidity, rainfall, and altitude. The region in which coffee grows – colloquially known as the ‘Coffee Belt’ – supports  over 100 million farmers and spans three continents including South America, Africa, and Asia. However, as global temperatures rise, the Coffee Belt is shrinking and according to WCR, as much as half of its suitable coffee land could become unviable by 2050.

The impact of this would be devastating for the coffee industry. Entire regions would be at risk of losing their most stable crop, leading to severe economic instability and irreparable damage for local growers. If this trend continues, the continued growth in demand for coffee, coupled with the shrinking of viable land, will limit origin diversity and further increase the risk of climate-induced instability as global coffee production becomes solely reliant on fewer regions.

Coffee industry investment

Claiming that the coffee sector lacks agtech investment is somewhat misleading. Technological development and investment within the industry continues at pace. However, most innovation in the coffee sector happens downstream of production and is aimed at improving the consumer end of the supply chain. This includes new roasting and brewing methods, as well as new ways to serve customers. Ultimately, though, this does little to increase the resilience of the coffee farming industry as a whole.

Upstream, agtech developments for coffee producers have stagnated. WCR predict that without ongoing research and development, coffee yields will continue to decrease in response to climate change. To counteract this loss and keep up with the ever-growing demand for coffee, WCR state that $452m must be invested in R&D per year over the next decade. This investment would provide the necessary productivity gains required to ensure the long-term viability of the coffee industry.

How can the industry improve?

Without ongoing research and development to counteract climate change’s impact on coffee yields, the industry risks a considerable decline in productivity. The future prosperity of the coffee sector hinges on: increasing the climate resilience of coffee plants, enhancing productivity and improving sustainability. This will require growers to innovate their way out of the crisis and necessitates the introduction of novel technologies and methodologies to  bridge the cavernous technology gap that has spread across numerous prime coffee-growing regions.

At a farm level, agtech adoption varies greatly from one region to the next. The largest coffee producer, Brazil, introduced automated and mechanised farming systems decades ago, but other nations such as Columbia still rely on inefficient and time consuming hand-picking methods. Underdeveloped regions see very little investment in long-term agtech solutions, as many producers are under too much financial strain to experiment. New technologies can address these concerns, however more attention must be brought to the benefits of agtech solutions so that farmers understand the potential for long-term returns on investment.

Which technologies and methodologies are in play?

When it comes to addressing climate resilience, several of the most promising techniques and technologies are more advanced than one might think and go far beyond water management systems, precision agriculture, and regenerative agriculture techniques.

Gene editing has been identified as one method of reducing pesticide use, as it protects coffee plants from pests and mitigates the impact of diseases such as coffee rust.

Drones have been suggested as a cheap way to help farmers survey difficult terrain, while newly developed mobile apps can keep track of variables such as weather, soil quality, and fertiliser use.

Artificial intelligence may also provide avenues of progress for coffee farmers, with the introduction of AI tools capable of determining the quality and taste of coffee before it is even harvested.

Lab-grown coffee also shows promise, as this would be climate resistant, carbon-neutral, and free of deforestation. However, lab-grown coffee could have severe ramifications on farmers who are reliant on traditional coffee harvesting for income.

Blockchain technology has also risen to prominence as consumer demand for traceable and transparent coffee production has fostered the creation of a decentralized system that tracks every step of the coffee supply chain, from the farm to the cup.

Embracing and investing in innovative agtech solutions is crucial for the coffee industry’s future. By promoting climate resilience, enhancing productivity, and ensuring sustainability, stakeholders can safeguard the livelihoods of coffee farmers, protect biodiversity, and meet the global demand, while mitigating the effects of the climate crisis on the coffee sector.

Identifying the right solutions

At Farrelly & Mitchell, we understand that the future of the coffee industry depends on the adoption of sustainable systems and innovative agtech solutions. As experts in food & agribusiness, we support governments, corporates, and multilateral entities, as they navigate this rapidly changing landscape. Drawing on our capabilities in food and agribusiness, we offer a comprehensive range of consulting services that includes sustainability and ESG services, capacity building and training, agtech and digitalisation services, food policy and control system management, and much more.

Our tailored approach ensures that our clients can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, safeguarding not only the future of their businesses but also the livelihoods of their workers and the customers they serve. By working with us, you can embrace sustainable, innovative, and productive practices, and thrive in the face of global change.

Contact us today to leverage our agrifood expertise and maximise your operations.

With over 30 years of experience in the food and agribusiness sector, Director Déirdre Nic Carthaigh is an exceptional leader with an extensive track record in completing due diligence, feasibility, market entry, and growth assignments worldwide.

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