Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns caused by climate change could reduce the suitability of lands for growing coffee in Latin America — the world’s largest coffee-producing region — by as much as 88 percent by 2050, according to new research.

In addition, even in coffee growing areas likely to remain suitable or expand in the future may still be in trouble because bees, which pollinate coffee, will be impacted by climate change.

The findings are part of a new study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). It is the first to look at the relationship between coffee, bees and climate change. It forecasts much greater losses in coffee suitability than previous assessments, with the largest projected for Nicaragua, and Honduras.

“These findings should create a real buzz in the coffee community,” said CIAT’s Pablo Imbach, lead author of the study. “As well as giving a clearest estimate yet of the huge effect climate change will have on coffee in Latin America, it’s also the first time the impact on coffee pollinators has been studied.”

“Bees are vital for coffee production,” he continued. “Without the services they provide through pollination, coffee yields will drop and this will directly affect the incomes of vulnerable smallholder farmers. While 2050 might seem like a long way off, there is little time for farmers to adapt to the situation.”

While the research suggests coffee suitability and bee populations will face an overall decline in Latin America, it also offers some good news. The scientists project a slight increase in coffee suitability in some parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica, mainly in mountainous areas where temperatures are expected to support coffee growing and more robust bee populations.

Dr Lee Hannah, senior scientist at Conservation International and a co-author of the study, said: “We hope the models we have created to make these projections can help to target appropriate management practices such as forest conservation and shade adjustment.”

Taylor Ricketts, director of the University of Vermont’s (UVM) Gund Institute for Environment and co-author of the study said: “Coffee is one of the most valuable commodities on earth, and needs a suitable climate and pollinating bees to produce well. This is the first study to show how both will likely change under global warming – in ways that will hit coffee producers hard.”

The paper concludes with adaptation strategies that can improve coffee production and bee pollination for Latin American coffee farmers through:

1. Increasing bee habitats in locations of thriving coffee plants but where bee diversity is expected to decrease.
2. Farm practices that reduce the impacts of climate change on coffee production in locations with thriving bee populations but where suitability for coffee production will decrease.
3. Forest conservation and landscape maintenance to protect the habitats of bees.

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The research was supported by the International Climate Initiative, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

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