Soon to be a has bean? images

Image: United Nations Photo

Soon to be a has bean?

It’s Fairtrade Coffee Week and if you love the magic bean, you’d better drink fast as the world could soon run out of one of its favourite infusions.

According to the global head of Mondelez International, which owns Kenco and Carte Noire, the coffee industry risks running low on coffee beans in the next 10 to 15 years if it does not promote more sustainable sources of supply.

It’s not just the amount of water needed and the loss of top soil as more coffee is more intensively produced, rising temperatures are making the world’s traditional coffee-producing regions less suitable for coffee growing. As coffee production becomes concentrated in a smaller number of smaller regions, the risk of volatility in the supply of coffee increases. We have lived with instability in world coffee prices for some time, but in future an extreme weather event could wipe out a whole producer or production zone. 

The solution may be to move away from growing coffee on large 'sun plantations' dependent on high levels of pesticides and fertilizers and go back to coffee’s traditional home on smaller, bio-diverse farms in the shade of tropical forests.

Meanwhile, world demand for coffee continues to increase, though its pattern is changing.

Recent data show that the amount of coffee consumed in Europe and North America has levelled off and even fallen as price-conscious consumers make less frequent visits to coffee shops. But in emerging economies, coffee consumption is going up. According to Maria Fernanda Brando, Marketing Consultant at Brazil’s P&A Marketing Internacional, it's part of a trend, fuelled by higher disposable incomes, towards aspirational consumerism.

She says, ‘Coffee shops are rapidly expanding in India, China, Mexico and El Salvador and are often seen as aspirational places to be, specially among middle class consumers. At these outlets, youngsters and adults can try more expensive options such as high quality espressos, lattes and machiattos in an engaging ambience. […] These coffee products represent a new wave of consumption: the accessible luxury.’

For many of us, a cup of coffee is one of the world’s great pleasures. One of the many challenges of our challenge-heavy century will be to ensure that coffee’s very popularity doesn’t drive it out of the reach of all but a privileged few.