The Bean Belt

Nearly all coffee in the world is grown in tropical countries that fall between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, also known as the Bean Belt.. The top 10 coffee producing countries are all located in the Bean Belt. The temperatures and rainfall in this area are perfect for growing coffee - especially Arabica, the most common species of coffee grown throughout the world. However, Arabica takes years to begin producing beans and requires specific conditions for optimal growth. In recent years, the climate along the Bean Belt has been rapidly changing.

Map of Countries by Coffee Production

Climate Change + Coffee


Coffea arabica

Coffea arabica is the most widely and commonly grown species of coffee in the world, making up 70% of global coffee production. The other 30% is coffea robusta, which can withstand more extreme climates and has a higher caffeine content, but is considered to be of lower flavor quality due to its bitterness.

Arabica trees take two to four years to begin producing berries, which contain the coffee bean. It can take up to seven years for the tree to fully mature and produce its highest quality coffee. Arabica is highly sensitive to its environment - it thrives when rainfall occurs steadily throughout the year, at altitudes between 1,300 and 1,500m, and when temperatures reach no higher than 24 °C (75 °F).

Troubles for arabica

Climate change has affected the production of coffee across the Bean Belt. Temperatures are often unseasonably hot or cold, and rainfall has been inconsistent when compared to past years. Average temperatures are expected to continue to rise, as are extreme weather events such as drought, frost, and flooding in different areas of the world.

Higher temperatures damage the coffee trees, but benefit their enemies - namely, the Coffee Borer Beetle and a fungus called coffee leaf rust. Both thrive in hot and wet climates. The Coffee Borer Beetle affects the arabica tree. Historically, it has been found primarily in central African countries and at lower altitudes, but it has recently begun to spred to higher altitudes and other countries, including Guatemala, Colombia, and Mexico - three of the top ten coffee producing countries. Coffee leaf rust was primarily found in Africa and Asia during the early 1900s. Since 1990, it has become a widespread issue in all of the main coffee producing countries. In 2012, coffee leaf rust broke out across most coffee producing countries in South America and wiped out half of the crops in many countries, and up to 85% in Guatemala.

  1. 19th Century

    Discoveries

    In the early 19th century, scientists first begin to notice climate patterns and officially recognize the greenhouse effect. By the end of the century, many scientists begin to believe that humans are contributing to climate change through creating more greenhouse gases than ever as a result of increased industrialization.

  2. 1977

    Low temperatures, high prices

    Coffee prices nearly double per pound compared to 1975 due to dry conditions and frosts in Brazil that occurred in the first years of the decade.

  3. 1990s

    Proof

    Improved technology allows scientists to confirm that greenhouse gases and emissions created by human activity are contributing to global warming and climate change. The general consensus among the scientific community becomes that climate change is a real and persistent issue.

  4. Early 2000s

    Bean Belt Blues

    Central America: Since the 1960s, average temperatures have risen while average rainfall has decreased. A Coffee Leaf Rust epidemic damaged over half of Central America's crop, including a near wipeout in Guatemala. Africa and Indonesia: Thanks to unseasonably hot and wet conditions, the Coffee Berry Borer has spread to higher altitudes than in the past.

  5. 2011

    Caffeine Spike

    Global average coffee prices hit a 14-year high, and the second-highest prices since 1977.

  6. 2050

    Projected Problems

    Current projections estimate that in even the next decade, the global average temperature will be at least 1.5°C hotter than it was in the late 1800s. Demand for coffee will continue to increase, but the land that is suitable for coffee crops will be reduced by nearly 50% if current practices are not changed. Producers must move their farms to higher altitudes to maintain their crops.

  7. 2100

    The end of wild coffee?

    Global temperatures may rise by 2° by 2100, which could cause problems that make a lack of coffee look pale in comparison. Arabica, which originated in Ethiopia, could be extinct in the wild. Domesticated varieties would survive, but would be more susceptible to disease due to lack of genetic variety provided by wild species.

  8. Beyond...

    Unsustainable Habits

    Warmer temperatures and extreme weather are likely to cause many places to be entirely uninhabitable. Farmers would have to move their farms to even higher altitudes, which may be impossible for small farmers. Unsustainable farming practices will hurt both producers and consumers. If the climate continues to face detrimental changes, there will be declines in coffee production and increases in price. Your morning coffee will taste different than today's due to the inability to maintain quality crops. Arabica will suffer the most, lending to more growth of Robusta coffee, which is less desirable due to its stronger, more bitter taste.


Rainfall & Temperature Projections - 2045 to 2065

CountryProjected Precipitation Change (mm)Projected Temperature Change (°C)

The Consumers

Climate change has already been felt by consumers throughout the world. Prices are lower when the crop year is successful, and spike when farmers produce smaller yields due to crop damages. In 2014, hot and dry conditions in Brazil caused production to suffer by one third of its normal yield. As a result, consumers saw the cost of their daily cup of coffee increase. Many producers are growing, roasting, and exporting robusta or robusta blends instead of arabica due to its hardiness, at the cost of quality. In the future, consumers may pay more for coffee that does not taste the same as it does today.

The Farmers

In many of the top coffee producing countries in the world, large percentages of the population live outside of urban centers and rely on growing coffee for their livelihoods. The majority of coffee is grown on small farms. One of the current solutions being proposed is for farmers to move their crops to higher altitudes to allow for more temperate weather. However, it is sometimes difficult and even impossible for these farmers to move their farms.

Ethiopia may be one of the hardest hit countries - it is where the arabica tree originated from, and is the last place that it can be found growing wild. The country relies heavily on the coffee trade. A third of the money the country makes from exports is from its coffee production industry. The vast majority of Ethiopians make a living from agricultural activities such as coffee farming. The climate in Ethiopia is subject to some of the most dramatic changes - temperatures are expected to rise by up to 5°C in less than 50 years, which could destroy the country's coffee industry and therefore the livelihood of much of the population.

This pattern is already being seen across the Bean Belt, with many farmers loosing their crops due to extreme weather, and is expected to worsen.