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date: 28 April 2017

Environmental Impacts and Sustainability of Coffee Production

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Coffee is an extremely important agricultural commodity produced in about 80 tropical countries, with an estimated 125 million people depending on it for their livelihoods in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and an annual production of about about 9 million tons of green beans. The genus Coffea L. (Rubiaceae, Ixoroideae, Coffeeae) consists of at least 125 species distributed in Africa, Madagascar, the Comoros Islands, the Mascarene Islands (La Réunion and Mauritius), tropical Asia, and Australia. Two species are economically important for the production of the beverage coffee, C. arabica L. (Arabica coffee) and C. canephora A. Froehner (robusta coffee). Higher beverage quality is associated with C. arabica.

Coffea arabica is a self-fertile tetraploid (2n = 4x = 44), which has resulted in very low genetic diversity of this significant crop. Additionally, coffee genetic resources are being lost at a rapid pace due to threats such as human population pressures leading to conversion of land to agriculture, deforestation, and land degradation; low coffee prices leading to abandoning of coffee trees in forests and gardens and shifting cultivation to other more remunerative crops; and climate change. Increased incidence of pests and diseases associated with climate change is leading to significant crop losses, threatening livelihoods in many coffee growing countries.

The economics of coffee production have changed in recent years, with prices on the international market declining and the cost of inputs increasing. At the same time, the demand for specialty coffee is at an all-time high. In order to make coffee production sustainable, attention should be paid to improving quality of the coffee by engaging in sustainable, environmentally friendly cultivation practices, which ultimately can claim a higher net returns.