Politics and policy

Climate change hits coffee industry

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A farmer inspects her coffee plants. Photo/FILE

A farmer inspects her coffee plants. Photo/FILE 



Posted  Sunday, September 18  2011 at  22:38
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Global warming has increased the spread of pests in key farming regions with coffee exports facing the strain from the berry disease.
Scientists at the Nairobi based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) predict increased incidences of coffee berry borer in coffee zones over the next 40 years due to changing climatic patterns.

The incidence of coffee berry borer, a small beetle recognised globally as the most destructive of coffee pests, will be higher in central and eastern regions of the country, the key producers of the country’s export coffee, states ICIPE.

Even small increases in temperature will lead to serious consequences on the number of generations, as well as the latitudinal and altitudinal range of the borer, adversely affecting coffee production in East Africa and parts of South America.” ICIPE said in a statement released last week.

This report comes as a shock to government that has been mulling plans to revive an industry that once served as the country’s foreign exchange earner.

Fluctuating temperatures and rainfall, the hallmarks of climate change, have already led to the spread of thrips (tiny insects known to destroy coffee beans by puncturing and sucking up their contents) in the coffee growing districts, lowering farmer’s output.

“There is serious thrips outbreak in most coffee regions which is likely to worsen after the end of the cold (July, August) season,” Dr Joseph Kimemia, managing director of the Coffee Research Foundation, said in an industry alert issued in July.

In spite of the good international prices government statistics indicate that coffee production dropped by 22.2 per cent in 2010 to 42,000 tonnes, leading to forex earning of Sh16 billion compared to peers like tea (Sh97 billion) and horticulture (Sh78 billion).

While the coffee prices have remained higher in the international market in the first half of this year, production decline has persisted in Kenya with deliveries to the marketing board declining in the first quarter of 2011 by 28 per cent to 11,300 tonnes.

Of late, farmers have alarmingly been abandoning coffee and turning their plantations to real estates, citing corruption and mismanagement that has undermined confidence in the industry.

The National Economic and Social Council, the country’s top policy organ wants the government to fight corruption and mismanagement in the industry to prevent farmers from abandoning coffee for other ventures .

“The council noted that coffee production has continued to decline while global prices are favourable and recommends that Kenya’s comparative advantage be leveraged to provide farmers with more incentives,” NESC said in a press release issued after the full Council meeting held on September 10.

The government may however have to rethink the proposed incentives as the ICIPE study encourages investment in climate adaptation measures to cushion the industry from further losses.

The first ever global map of future distribution of the coffee berry borer drawn by ICIPE scientists and colleagues from the UK, US and Germany indicate that most of today’s coffee growing zones will not sustain the crop in coming years.

The study says Africa’s arable land will shrink by 60 to 90 million hectares by 2050 as the impact of climate change sets in.

“Moreover, soil conditions at higher altitudes might not be suitable for Arabica coffee under the anticipated high temperatures,” the scientists said, adding that shade trees should be introduced in coffee plantations to improve microclimate that favours the growth of coffee.

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