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Climate change cuts coffee farmer incomes, threatens Kenya’s ability to grow crop

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An investigation on the impact of climate change on Kenyan coffee farmers warned that 93 per cent of growers had experienced the effects of climate change in the form of more erratic rainfall and an increase in pests and diseases.

The survey conducted in Kenya’s coffee heartland of Nyeri, Kirinyaga, and Embu counties alarmingly noted that extreme weather caused a loss in yield and in turn incomes. In the longer term, it threatened farmers’ ability to grow coffee.

Farmers who were drawn from Kagaari North, Mutira, and New Gikaru Farmers’ Cooperative Societies noted that in the last five to ten years climate change had become a major threat to coffee production. This has affected coffee production trends, with a decline attributed to prolonged dry spells, intermittent rainfall, the drying up of water bodies such as local rivers, and increased cases of pests and diseases on coffee trees.

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By 2050, Kenya’s average maximum temperature is predicted to increase from 27°C to 31.2°C. These temperature changes, both hot and cold, led to an increase in pests – particularly coffee berry disease and thrips.

Increased temperatures in Kenya are not only adding to the severity of the coffee berry borer (CBB)– the most common coffee pest– but also aiding its introduction to new regions.

Researchers forecast that things will only get worse. The number of generations per year of CBB is predicted to double. This will increase the pest’s population and the extent of crops damaged by the pest. It will also mean farmers face the disease’s threat over a longer period each year. 

Famed for its slightly sweet taste and fruity aroma, Arabica coffee is grown by 99 per cent of Kenya’s coffee farmers. Compared to the more heat-tolerant Robusta, it is easily susceptible to shifts in average temperatures beyond the optimum range of 18-22°C.

Kenya’s Rainfall is predicted to increase from 1,405mm to 1,575mm with a distribution that isn’t favourable for coffee. Based on these changes, the optimal coffee-producing zones are expected to shift from the current 1,600m above sea level (ASL) to higher altitudes of 1,700m ASL.

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This is predicted to reduce regions suitable for coffee production in Kenya from 50 to 70 percent to just 30 to 60 percent.

“The adaptation measures available to help farmers avoid the worst damage caused by the climate crisis come with a heavy financial cost for farmers. As well as losing income from damaged coffee beans through diseases or pests such as thrips and coffee berry disease, it costs farmers extra money to invest in planting new varieties of coffee plants, manage infestations, or grow alternative crops to generate extra income,” read the report.

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