The glory of coffee in China

The glory of coffee in China

A spectacular theater play called “The glory of coffee” on the history of coffee in China was the highlight of the 26th International Conference on Coffee Science (ASIC 2016). At this biannual gathering of all coffee scientists and industry research leaders, CIAT DAPA had two opportunities to present our advances towards climate change adaptation.

First, coffee+climate PostDoc Christian Bunn gave a keynote presentation on efficiently guiding forward-looking adaptation with a supply chain inclusive view. One of the most important adaptation interventions will be shade management. CIAT researcher Theresa Liebig shed some full sun on the relationship between microclimate, shading systems, and “the red queen” aka leaf rust.

ASIC is a conference that brings together researchers from all disciplines that work on coffee. Starting from extraction methods (scientifically optimized espresso!) to agronomy and genetics, the entire production process is covered in a four-day lecture series. Of course, the coffee flows generously to keep attention levels high throughout this intense exchange. ASIC is conceptualized to foster scientific collaboration across disciplines, but also to give industry leaders a one-stop update on all relevant science.

CIAT has become a thought leader on climate change adaptation and was invited to give the keynote presentation on this pressing issue. After a series of failed harvests, the entire sector is alert and looking for solutions. Bunn, therefore, outlined CIAT’s framework for forward-looking adaptation to climate change. He explained that “CIAT research shows that we have to accommodate twice as much coffee production in only half the suitable available area. This will cause increasing prices and diminishing quality as producers shift to Robusta style coffee.” For climate change, science faces the problem that past observations are of limited use to guide reactive adaptation. The change signals are often muted by climatic variability, and the objective has to be to avoid damages, not incur them over some decades to have a statistically sound sample. Therefore, science has to support forward-looking adaptation using advanced climate impact modeling methods.

CIAT research shows that the most vulnerable areas are those at low altitudes that today have a long dry season and high maximum temperatures. It will be questionable if coffee production in these regions may expand the economically viable coping range. To overcome these challenges, producers have to prepare for rainfall uncertainty and manage heat stress. For smallholder producers, this may result in a poverty trap. Lacking information and means, they will not be able to adapt, which may result in further incurred damages and even lesser income. The presentation outlined an approach for supply chain inclusive adaptation in which the private sector invests in adoption of climate-smart practices. Where adaptation is unfeasible, the public sector will have to either invest in novel production practices or support an orderly transition to alternative income sources.

When it comes to local mitigation and adaptation to a changing climate, the urgent demand to systematically analyze the interplay among regional to local climate and tree-crop microclimate becomes apparent. Understanding the complexity of “microclimate change” induced through shade trees and intercrops of diverse coffee production systems is, therefore, indispensable, not least because of its great role in modifying the environment for hazardous pests and diseases such as leaf rust.

As Liebig demonstrated in her PhD work, shading effects on local microclimate and disease development are a result of complex interaction networks that vary in space and time. Adjusting shading levels according to site-specific contexts to conquer serious threats such as “the red queen” will, therefore, remain a tricky task under a changing climate.

Lastly, China is the big unknown in the coffee sector. The ASIC conference also offered a rare opportunity to learn about this country. Production grew from 10,000 ha just 15 years ago to now 150,000 to 200,000 ha. China has, therefore, become a serious coffee country with a clear objective to develop efficient and modern structures. Chinese demand is growing by 10 to 15% every year as coffee is increasingly popular in the young urban elite. This great leap forward was celebrated at the conference dinner with a theater play. Named “The glory of coffee in China,” the play celebrated coffee producers in a delightful dance and song show around the legend of the arrival and popularization of coffee in China. According to the myth, a cup of coffee served by a beautiful girl saved the life of an injured young man in a dark time of struggle and civil unrest. Because she had kissed the coffee cherries, he survived and fell in love with her after drinking this “first kiss coffee.” A spectacular finale to this week of intense discussions!