Hundreds of farmers in Tanzania are abandoning crops of coffee and cotton due to changes in the local climate. Instead, they’re planting more lucrative vegetables and flowers as temperatures rise and rainfall becomes less predictable.
“Coffee beans are no longer as profitable, as my harvests keep on falling,” Ludovick Meela, a farmer from Tanzania’s northern Kilimanjaro region, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the Reuters news organization. “I need fast-growing crops I can sell for a quick income.”
The strain to Tanzania’s cash crops is the latest sign that climate change is altering how and where food is produced around the world. In Honduras, banana farmers are seeing yields decline amid fierce cold snaps and erratic rain patterns. India’s wheat and rice crops are suffering from hotter weather, and in the U.S. West, enduring drought has caused the beef-cattle herd to shrink to its lowest level in more than 60 years.
Climate change is also exacerbating a water scarcity challenge in the U.S. and globally. About 80 percent of the world’s freshwater resources are used to produce food, by some estimates, but drought, irregular rainfall and warmer surface temperatures are threatening to diminish those supplies. “Agriculture and food production as we know it in the United States is at risk, perhaps at far greater risk than we realize,” Jay Famiglietti, a senior water-cycle scientist at NASA, told reporters earlier this month.
In Tanzania, scientists have attributed the drop in arabica coffee yields to a rise in nighttime temperatures in recent decades.
Since 1966, the country's coffee production has fallen by 46 percent, a trend expected to continue this century. Over that same period, Tanzania's nighttime average temperature has ticked up by 1.4 degrees Celsius (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit), according to a recent study by South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand. The researchers estimated that for each 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degree Fahrenheit) rise in the mean minimum temperature, coffee farmers were likely to lose around 137 kilograms (300 pounds) of coffee per hectare (2.5 acres) annually.
Tanzania's declining coffee output has a limited impact on the world's supply of the caffeine-rich beans -- the country produces less than 1 percent of arabica coffee worldwide, according to Tanzania's Coffee Board. But the regional economy could suffer significantly if coffee production falls further, observers say. The industry employs about 2.4 million people in Tanzania and millions more in neighboring countries in East Africa. “The effects to livelihoods and jobs will be huge,” Haji Semboja, an economics professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, told Reuters in April.
The declining trend is pushing Meela and other farmers in Tanzania to cultivate other types of crops -- such as cabbage, onions, lettuce and potatoes -- and to keep dairy cattle. Meela said he believes these are a better investment of his time and money than climate-threatened coffee, the Reuters foundation reported Monday.
"When my children were growing up, coffee was everything to me," he told the news organization. "I got a lot of income from it, which enabled me to gain economically, but all that is history."