According to data, coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil. Although there are huge differences depending on the country, on average a person consumes 1.3 kilos of coffee per year.
Between 1,600 and 2,000 million cups of coffee are drunk daily on the planet. 125 million people live from its cultivation, without counting roasting, commercialization, or transformation. Its largest exporter and producer is Brazil and the country that imports it the most, is the United States.
Coffee consumption has grown exponentially in recent decades: its production has increased by 60% in the last 30 years, posing multiple threats to the environment, according to the International Coffee Organization.
Conversely, climate change also jeopardizes the survival of the coffee crop, especially the high-quality one.
Coffee processing farms can discharge waste into rivers and cause pollution that affects water systems kills wildlife and disrupts ecosystems. The big problems derived from the current model of coffee consumption are deforestation for their crops and soil erosion.
Consequently, the future of coffee production can be predicted, which is linked to the health of the environment. Climate change threatens the amount of fertile land available to coffee farmers and increases the risk of pests and diseases. Additionally, unpredictable weather conditions can damage and delayed harvests.
Although, coffee production is also related to various environmental problems: water pollution, deforestation, soil degradation, and decreased biodiversity, among others.
It should be emphasized that coffee, being a perennial crop, in which the same plant can be harvested several times, coffee has the potential to have a low environmental impact. In contrast to the above, sugarcane or soybeans for example: in each harvest, the producer must remove the crop and then replant it, this can damage the soil and reduce wildlife, which indicates that coffee can be ecologically sustainable.
Now, the efficient use of water is a matter of vital importance, an issue that is on everyone's lips these days. From coffee growing and the rural sector in general, we undertake actions for its conservation and good use. Water pollution is one of the most difficult and costly environmental problems to solve on coffee farms.
Some methods avoid 74% of the potential contamination of water resources due to the by-products of the beneficiation process, without affecting the operation of the pulping machine or the quality of the coffee.
The pulping method without water is a process that reduces water consumption by 20 liters per kilo of coffee. The indiscriminate use of water resources produces large volumes of wastewater, making treatment difficult and increasing costs, which is estimated to generate on average 40 to 45 L of residual discharge per kg of processed coffee, which ends up in bodies of water.
This alternate benefit process is called "semi-dry", in which external conditions, agro-climatic supply, and other process variables are evaluated to preserve and enhance the attributes of Colombian coffee, such as flavor, texture, smell, color, or temperature. It is also a contribution to venture into and strengthens the production chain of special coffees, which seeks to reduce production costs and receive premiums for quality.
In turn, agroforestry joins a group of practices and production systems, where the planting of crops and forest trees are found sequentially and in combination with the application of soil conservation practices. Coffee farms with shade trees and close to forest areas tend to have a much higher population of wildlife, from monkeys to birds and insects, achieving benefits for the coffee trees.
In addition, depending on the trees that are planted, they can provide essential nutrients to the soil, help prevent soil erosion, and be an additional source of income for producers.
Finally, the intensive use of fertilizers can aggravate water pollution and cause damage to important microorganisms found in the soil. But without fertilizers, coffee trees are more vulnerable to pests and diseases, tend to be weaker, and may produce less coffee. For coffee farmers, this can be a difficult balance.
It should also be mentioned that integrated pest and disease management to ensure that coffee quality remains high without causing damage to the environment consists of using multiple techniques to keep pests and diseases at low levels instead of completely eradicating them. These can include the responsible use of synthetic pesticides but also rely heavily on prevention practices, monitoring, trapping, and natural pesticides.
Many other agricultural practices can harm the environment and are not exclusively related to coffee. Sewage, chemical pesticides, car batteries, and other items can hurt the environment. Sustainable energy sources, recycling, proper waste disposal, and avoiding disposable plastics can all contribute to a greener coffee farm.
Quality coffee and environmental sustainability do not have to be two separate objectives, since both goals can complement each other. Plant biodiversity improves soil structure and quality, beekeeping improves pollination and thus harvest, as well as agroforestry helps protect crops from pests. Water conservation and treatment have a significant impact on the local community, while also ensuring that coffee is produced with clean water.