Protecting Chimps Could Help Save Coffee From Climate Change

Tanzania has seen steep drops in yields over the last 50 years, according to a new study.

Coffee beans on a plant in Tanzania. (Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

May 2, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Coffee is often included on the watch list of foods that could disappear due to climate change. But that’s usually couched as a worst-case scenario. According to a study published in the latest issue of Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, however, coffee is already going away in some parts of the world.

Over a 50-year period, coffee yields dropped by nearly half in Tanzania—and the authors of the study project the decline will only get worse as temperatures continue to rise. Not only does this impact the livelihoods of the 2.4 million people in Tanzania that rely on coffee, the country’s most valuable export, but the study serves as a warning for similar regions that grow Arabica beans around the world. The authors say that Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Kenya are experiencing “strikingly similar minimum temperature trends” to those that have caused yields to drop in Tanzania.

“Should the climate progress in this observed manner, without adaptation strategies or substantial external inputs, it is tentatively suggested that coffee production” will continue to drop, the study reads. Each hectare may yield just 145 kilograms come 2060, down from between 400 and 500 kilograms in the 1960s.

The Jane Goodall Institute is helping to provide some of those adaptation strategies for coffee growers in Tanzania, which is home a chimpanzee population that’s threatened not only by agriculture but also deforestation, development, and other human activity.

“We’re trying to help communities get different forms of income so that we can try to reduce pressure on forests and forest products,” said Shawn Sweeney, the director of community engagement at the institute named for the famous conservationist.

The nonprofit helped form a coffee collective in western Tanzania and is working to not only supply growers with equipment, but also to figure out ways coffee plantations can coexist with forest habitats that are home both to chimpanzees and a whole lot of sequestered carbon. The Congo Basin, which Tanzania sits on the eastern edge of, is home to the world’s second largest rainforest, and deforestation in the region propels climate change. So in addition to working with the coffee collective, Goodall’s group is involved in a nationwide conservation plan that has reconnected islands of forest habitat with corridors—some of which can play host to shade-grown coffee farms.

“We’re trying to address poverty and human needs while also helping those forests and ultimately chimpanzees,” Sweeney said.

And what’s good for the chimps may ultimately be good for your caffeine fix too.