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Climate change drives up the price of coffee, chocolate

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RNZ

30 March 2024, 7:32 PM

Climate change drives up the price of coffee, chocolateIt's rare for a coffee blend to be sourced from just one location. Photo: RNZ/Leah Tebbutt

Climate change might drive up the price of coffee and chocolate, but it won't take them away entirely, local experts say.


That's despite estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that worldwide yields of coffee and cocoa beans could decrease by a third by 2050.





Coffee Supreme chief executive Andrew Low said there was plenty of motivation to keep the trades viable.


"Many families and many societies across the whole of Asia, Africa and Central America are dependent on the sustainability of coffee, so we've got some aligned motivations.


"I have a lot of faith in technology and farming advancements to ensure this is a sustainable crop for a long time into the future."


Still, there are challenges. As temperatures and rainfall increase, the amount of land suitable for growing coffee beans is decreasing.


Low was in Brazil last week and he says the impact there is huge, with average temperatures rising by three degrees since 1990.


"In 1990, Brazil had 97,000 kilometres of coffee-growing land," he said.


"Today, it's only 38,000."


Brazil supplies a large portion of the world's coffee beans, which are found in most blends.


It's rare for a coffee blend to be sourced from just one location - meaning we're reliant on coffee producing countries around the world, Low explained.


"When you're buying a bag of coffee, you're choosing your favourite recipe. It's a bit like baking a cake - often beans from four or five different countries will combine to create that perfect consistent coffee that you enjoy every day."


And with the impacts of climate change spreading around the world, New Zealanders won't be exempt from its consequences.


"Farm technologies have improved, so the amount of coffee we can get from a tree has increased and we've offset some of the land reduction. But we can't do that forever. Unless we make significant changes to how we farm, we're going to see great coffee getting a lot more expensive."


Cocoa beans also under pressure


It's not just coffee feeling the heat.


Climate forecasters say almost a third of global cocoa production could be wiped out by 2050.


That's because the trees like a certain environment with uniform temperatures, high humidity and plenty of rain.


But two thirds of the world's cocoa is grown in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where days are getting hotter and drought more frequent.


Wellington Chocolate Factory co-founder Gabe Davidson said the commodity price was higher than he'd ever seen.


"It's at a 46-year high. Over the past five years it has increased by 150 percent. I attribute that to a global increase in demand compounded with the challenges of climate change."


But his small, speciality company, which buys direct from farmers at a higher-than-market price, is more insulated than "big chocolate", he said.


"At this end of the market we can absorb some of the price increases. We're not planning to sell our chocolate for the same price while reducing the weight of the bar, like some chocolate companies are."





We won't run out


Havana Coffee green coffee buyer and master roaster Joe Stoddart has a similar faith to Andrew Low.


It was not all bad news, we would not be running out of coffee or chocolate any time soon, he said.


But we do need to think harder about where our morning fuel is coming from.


"A truly sustainable and biodiverse coffee plantation needs shade canopy and a lot of different trees," he explained.


"If we put coffee out in what we call a 'monocrop' it may yield a lot, but it is more susceptible to the heat of the environment or a lack of water."


"We would rather purchase less quantity at a higher quality than have to outstrip [the farmers'] capacity and force unsustainable habits," he said, while pointing out that sustainable solutions can cost more.


Stoddard said this approach was working.


"There's heaps of really incredible innovations that are similar to New Zealand's number 8 wire mentality.


"The ways of storing water and recycling nutrients back into the ground are next level."


To ensure this work could continue, Davidson said further price increases could be expected.


"Chocolate should be a treat, it should be a luxury," he said.


"It should be high quality and fair. In that sense, I think conventional chocolate prices need to go up."