As climate change threatens coffee, outlook for avocados and cashews mixed, research finds


Dive Brief:

  • The traditional growing regions for coffee, avocados and cashews will shift over the next three decades due to climate change, with coffee most negatively affected, according to a recent analysis by researchers with Zurich University of Applied Sciences published in Plos One.
  • Researchers tracked soil data and analyzed climate projections across the main growing regions for the three crops to determine their suitability in 2050. Coffee would see the biggest decline in suitable growing conditions in regions where it is currently grown, including Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Colombia. Meanwhile, the current major producing areas for avocados and cashews would shrink in suitability, but the crops could shift to regions with higher altitudes and latitudes where temperatures would be lower, like the U.S., Argentina, China and East Africa.
  • Adapting to changing growing conditions due to the effects of climate change will be crucial for producers, said researchers, who recommended mitigation strategies for each of the crops to sustain their growth and meet demand.

Dive Insight:

The effects of climate change on coffee have been examined closely in recent years, with research finding that rising temperatures will impact both the amount of coffee bean varieties available in the future, as well as the taste and aroma of the beverage. The Zurich University study found that the suitability of coffee growing regions will decrease in South and Central America, Central and West Africa, India and South Asia because of rising temperatures over the coming years. Extreme weather has already been hammering coffee, with prices hitting a multiyear high in 2021 due to drought and cold weather in Brazil.

Less is known about how climate change may impact growing conditions for avocados and cashews. The Zurich University research is said to be the first to model the future growing suitability for these crops. It found that avocados will be less suitable to grow in areas of countries where it is a major crop, including Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Peru, but cultivation could expand to different areas of the globe. Similarly, cashew suitability as a crop is set to increase globally as a whole, the study said, but will likely decrease in some of the main areas it is currently grown in, such as India and West Africa.

Gaining a better understanding of future growing conditions for the crops is important as demand for all three continues to expand. 

Avocados have boomed in recent years as consumers have associated them with health benefits like their anti-inflammatory properties. Demand for the fruit is set to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 6% until 2026, Modor Intelligence projected. However, the fruit is vulnerable to changes in growing conditions — including in regions where the Zurich University researchers expect to see more of the crop in the years ahead. In California, responsible for 90% of U.S. avocado production, a severe drought resulted in a shortage in 2021, pushing up prices to new highs.

Cashews are among a variety of nuts that have seen increased demand in recent years because of their health halo and suitability as an ingredient in dairy alternatives as consumers shift away from animal-based milk. The global cashew market is projected to increase by a compound annual growth rate of 4.6% until 2026, according to Mordor Intelligence.

The Zurich University researchers said that new locations for production of the crops at higher altitudes could spur market growth. They also recommended that producers focus on adaptation, including breeding plant varieties that are better suited to rising temperatures and droughts. For example, the researchers said replacing arabica with robusta coffee would be beneficial in certain regions.

Growers, however, should prepare for a day when much of their land may not be able to produce the crops in the future.

“Landowners and farmers in current and future production locations must be willing to change their management or grow a new crop,” the researchers said.

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