Adapting to Climate is an Uphill Battle for Coffee, Animals

June 4, 2018


You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and you don’t need a thermometer to read the signs of climate change.

Moving uphill helps adapt to rising temps. But sooner or later, you run out of hill.


HAMBELA, Ethiopia, June 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Few countries take coffee as seriously as Ethiopia – and that’s not only because it prides itself as being the source of the prized Arabica bean.


But rising temperatures and worsening drought linked to climate change are now hitting production – and fixing that may require moving many Ethiopian coffee fields uphill, experts say.

Aside from its cultural value, coffee is Ethiopia’s single largest source of export revenue, worth more than $860 million in the 2016-2017 production year.

But coffee-growing areas in eastern Ethiopia have seen the average temperature climb 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.3 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past three decades, according to the Environment, Climate Change and Coffee Forest Forum (ECCCFF), an Ethiopian non-governmental organisation.

That has caused stronger drought and – given that coffee is a crop sensitive to both moisture and temperature – a worsening of diseases that afflict coffee berries.

As a result, thousands of hectares of coffee plants are being lost each year in traditional growing areas, which is raising fears about the future of Ethiopia’s coffee production.

The country’s government is now encouraging farmers to grow coffee at higher elevations – up to 3,200 metres (10,500 ft) above sea level, about 1,000 metres above the norm.

That could help mitigate some of the climate change pressures Ethiopia faces, said Birhanu Tsegaye, who heads extension services for coffee, tea and spices for the Ethiopia Coffee and Tea Development Marketing Authority (ECTDMA), a government body tasked with overseeing the sector.

As temperatures rise, “even areas not (formerly) suitable for coffee growing have become suitable, presenting an opportunity for the country to cope with climate change,” he said.

Pressures from warming conditions have been noticed in other parts of the country too.

Not just coffee growers.

Yale Climate Connections:

The spruce forests of New York’s Whiteface Mountain are home to dozens of bird species, including yellow-bellied flycatchers, blackpoll warblers, and purple finches. Many of these birds have been moving uphill.

Ornithologist Jeremy Kirchman is curator of birds at the New York State Museum. He recently repeated a bird survey that was conducted on the mountain 40 years ago.

Kirchman: “What we found is that the majority of species, more than half, had shifted their ranges uphill.”

The elevation where each species is most abundant, on average, is about 270 feet higher.

Kirchman: “We hypothesize that that’s in response to the warming climate.”

Average daily high temperatures on the mountain have increased more than three degrees Fahrenheit over the past forty years. Kirchman suspects the birds are moving higher to find a more suitable climate.

For now, he says birds are still flourishing on Whiteface. But he’s concerned about species such as the Bicknell’s thrush that require high altitudes.

At that point, species get shoved off the planet.

Good examples of the types of data points, thousands of them, that are consistent with a warming planet. NASA studied this a decade ago – indicators from the natural world changing in a way consistent with a warming planet.

So throw out the thermometers. The planet itself, and the creatures that live on it, are telling us a consistent story.


A new NASA-led study shows human-caused climate change has made an impact on a wide range of Earth’s natural systems, including permafrost thawing, plants blooming earlier across Europe, and lakes declining in productivity in Africa.

Cynthia Rosenzweig of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Science in New York and scientists at 10 other institutions have linked physical and biological impacts since 1970 with rises in temperatures during that period. The study, to be published May 15 in the journal Nature, concludes human-caused warming is resulting in a broad range of impacts across the globe.

“This is the first study to link global temperature data sets, climate model results, and observed changes in a broad range of physical and biological systems to show the link between humans, climate, and impacts,” said Rosenzweig, lead author of the study.

Rosenzweig and colleagues also found the link between human-caused climate change and observed impacts on Earth holds true at the scale of individual continents, particularly in North America, Europe, and Asia.

To arrive at the link, the authors built and analyzed a database of more than 29,000 data series pertaining to observed impacts on Earth’s natural systems. The data were collected from about 80 studies, each with at least 20 years of records between 1970 and 2004.

Observed impacts included changes to physical systems, such as glaciers shrinking, permafrost melting, and lakes and rivers warming. Biological systems also were impacted in a variety of ways, such as leaves unfolding and flowers blooming earlier in the spring, birds arriving earlier during migration periods, and plant and animal species moving toward Earth’s poles and higher in elevation. In aquatic environments such as oceans, lakes, and rivers, plankton and fish are shifting from cold-adapted to warm-adapted communities.

6 Responses to “Adapting to Climate is an Uphill Battle for Coffee, Animals”

  1. John Kane Says:

    I have been developing plans for a deep-sea container port in Kathmandu. I guess it is time to start exploring the options for growing coffee on the upper slopes of Mt. Everest. Interested investors are welcome. /sarc

  2. ted knopper Says:

    Arabica coffee’s optimal temperature range is 64°–70°F (18°C–21°C). It can tolerate mean annual temperatures up to roughly 73°F (24°C).

    The drought is the source of the temperature rise not the cause, in a drought one has higher temperatures. Ethiopia is subject to drought periods just like all parts of the earth,

    has some data on both temperature and rainfall. If one looks at say rainfall from 1931-1960 151mm in Aug temp 24C in Apr, 1961-1990 137.1mm in Aug temp 23.9 in Apr, 1991-2015 142.2mm in Aug temp 24.7 in Apr. The rain goes up and down as does the temperature in a long cycle. One thing to keep in mind is the temperatures and rain from this source are mostly from the capital, not in the highland regions were coffee is actually grown. Considering the problems in the country the reliability of the data is also suspect.

    The real problem with Ethiopia is war, endless war for the last 30 years, no investment in water delivery systems while the population doubled making the problem worse and disease. The last is the major problem with coffee in many parts of the world. Several diseases have been spreading which reduce yield and in some cases kill the plant.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    “The drought is the source of the temperature rise not the cause”…

    Jaysus, ted. Do you heat your hotplate with boiling water?

    That’s the same as claiming the river has been polluted by the dead fish and not by the disposal of toxic sewage.

    • ted knopper Says:

      Drought is not a function of temperature, some of the highest rainfall regions on earth have high temperatures, the tropics. Temperatures can indicate high humidly , high rainfall or low humidly low rain falls. When the world was warmer in the past in the north Africa area we call the Sahara which is in the same band as Ethiopia, the rainfall was a lot more than today and the Sahara had rivers instead of blowing sand. Today in Antarctica, some regions have not received a drop of snow much less water in years, yet the temperature is very cold, most of the time way below freezing. You associate temperature with drought as you live in a temperate region where high temperatures are associated with low or none existent rainfall.

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