ADDIS ABABA, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Aman Adinew, a veteran of the Ethiopian coffee industry, is facing a new challenge as he endeavors to increase the international market share of his Ethiopian specialty coffee.
The new challenge is climate change, which has resulted in delays in ripening of coffee seeds in his two coffee farms in Hambela, Guji zone of Oromia, and Gedeb, Gedeo zone of Southern region, according to the CEO of METAD Agricultural Development PLC.
METAD exports specialty coffee to North American, Asian and European markets, helping Ethiopia meet its export target for its most important cash crop.
Ethiopia earned 866 million U.S. dollars exporting 221,000 tons of coffee during the last Ethiopian fiscal year, which ended on July 9.
"This year harvesting was delayed in our Hambela, and Gedeb coffee farms by a month as the coffee beans hadn't turned red yet by December," Adinew told Xinhua. "It was still green, creating major problems in timely delivery to our customers."
"By now we should have completed the coffee processing for export, but this year, because of shortage of rain, we're having major problems," he said.
The threat climate change poses to Ethiopia's coffee is also something that worries Birhanu Tsegaye, coffee, tea and spice extension directorate director of Ethiopia Coffee and Tea Development Marketing Authority (ECTDMA).
"The rising temperature and decreasing rainfall has negative effects on Ethiopia's coffee industry," Tsegaye told Xinhua.
"One problem of climate change is occasional drought, the other one is erratic rainfall," leading to crop failure, land degradation and other significant effects that affect coffee industry, he said.
Since coffee is a temperature- and moisture-sensitive crop, climate change affects the production and productivity of coffee in Ethiopia, Tsegaye said.
To fight climate change, he said, the country needs to diversify coffee production systems, diversify coffee genetic resources, strengthen coffee research institutions, improve soil and water conservation practices, and use water conserving irrigation systems in moisture-stressed areas.
While climate change has visibly reduced Ethiopia's overall coffee production in recent years, some say it could even threaten the very existence of Ethiopian coffee, a devastating impact for a country that's thought to be the original place of the plant and on a sector that directly or indirectly employs about 20 million Ethiopians.
Tadesse Woldemariam, senior technical adviser at Ethiopia Environment Change and Coffee Forest Forum, a local no-governmental organization, says Ethiopia has already lost 60 percent of its forest coffee over the last 40 years due to deforestation, a trend expected to accelerate with climate change.
"This deforestation is going at a rate of one percent annually," he told Xinhua.
"In the last three decades we've seen increase in temperature of about 1.3 degrees centigrade. We have observed the impact especially in the drier coffee-producing areas of eastern Ethiopia, with droughts leading to exposure of coffee berry disease," said Woldemariam.
Woldemariam said that effective tree shade management can reduce temperature by five degrees centigrade, conserve moisture by having effective water management practices to protect coffee species from climate change-induced drought.
However, he warned that unless effective climate change mitigation and adaption work is done, coffee-producing areas could be reduced by 60 percent in a relatively short span and with it thousands of years of coffee-growing culture.
Woldemariam's warnings are echoed by Adinew, who explains if the effect of climate change isn't addressed, his entire business model could be endangered.
"If the climate change trend continues, there won't be any 'arabica coffee' from this area; we won't be able to fulfill our contracts, pay our employees. It affects even the survival of our organization. No foreign currency for our coffee, which is popular for its quality and distinctiveness in parts of Asia, North America and Europe," he said.
While climate change has alarmed businesspeople, government officials and academics alike, some say it could have an unintended positive impact for Ethiopia.
Woldemariam said that with an increase in temperature, areas previously unsuitable for coffee production could soon be suitable.
"In the past coffee used to grow at maximum 2200 meters above sea level. Now it's growing at around 2600 meters above sea level. We expect it even to grow up to 3200 meters above sea level soon," he told Xinhua.
However, he said with highland areas of Ethiopia having little history of coffee agriculture, it's important that government agencies and NGOs partner to tap such potential if Ethiopia is to turn a loss into a gain.