* Rising temperatures put 30 pct of coffee land at risk
* Scientists trying to help farmers adapt
By Sarah Grainger
SAN LUCAS TOLIMAN, Guatemala, May 19 Mexico and
Central America could lose around a third of land suitable to
grow coffee as global warming hurts conditions for the best
quality beans, a study of regional farms shows.
Specialty arabica coffee, the pride of countries like
Guatemala, grows inside a very narrow band of altitude and
temperature making it particularly sensitive to small changes
in the climate.
At the current rate temperatures are rising, there could be
at least a 30 percent net loss in land suitable to farm coffee
in Mexico and Central America by 2050 forcing many farmers to
turn to different crops, said Peter Laderach, a lead researcher
at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.
Laderach, whose organization is based in Colombia, is
leading a team of scientists who started studying 7,000 small
farms in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua in 2009
and has based his estimate on data collected so far.
The researchers map the farms with satellite positioning
devices to collect data on altitude and crop production. That
information is then cross-referenced with climate change models
to track how different areas will be affected by hotter weather
and changes in rainfall.
In San Lucas Toliman, a village nestled between two
volcanoes in western Guatemala, 140 farmers from the Granja
Juan Ana cooperative submitted mapping data to the project.
"We want to know what will happen to be more aware. We hope
to pass the information to everyone so we can be prepared,"
grower Julio Morales said, whose family has farmed coffee in
the area for more than two decades.
Greenhouse gas emissions could heat the earth's surface by
between 2 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit (1-6 degrees Celsius) over
the next 100 years, according to the United Nations, forcing
farmers of all kinds of crops to change habits.
TRYING TO ADAPT
Unpredictable rainfall patterns, excessive droughts, and
hurricanes caused by climate change are already affecting
coffee farmers from Kenya to Vietnam. Mexico and Guatemala are
among the world's top ten coffee producers by volume, according
to the International Coffee Organization and shrinking coffee
land will eventually affect the global market.
"We'll have much less coffee available and for those who
can still produce, the price could go up," Laderach said.
Laderach's research has shown the changing weather will
mean growers farming coffee at low altitudes will lose crops.
Higher altitudes, which now are too cold to grow coffee,
will become farmland but higher up, land is scarce. Poor
farmers in Central America, where most of the property is
concentrated in the hands of a small number of owners, have
trouble acquiring new land.
Many farmers between the low and high extremes will need to
adapt their farming methods to continue producing coffee.
The scientists are using the data to give farmers advice on
how to change practices. Some can plant shade trees to lower
the temperatures over their trees, others can change to drought
resistant varieties of coffee or install irrigation systems.
"If there's a whole portion of the coffee supply chain that
20 or 30 years from now can't grow as much, can't grow the same
quality or perhaps can't grow coffee ... (we) want to know that
now," said Michael Dupee, vice president of the U.S.-based
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc GMCR.O helping to fund the
(Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Marguerita Choy)