Climate change: what's brewing for coffee?

Dec 6, 2016
Coffee farmer Zhong Dong Dan proudly presents his three month old grand-daughter. Twenty years ago his family started growing coffee here in Pu’er, a part of China more famous for its tea.

His is not an easy life.  The price he can get for his green (unroasted) coffee is subject to the trading that goes on many thousands of miles away at exchanges in New York.

When the price goes up it is tempting to do what he can to increase yields, like clearing away the trees that shade the coffee plants so that more coffee can be planted.

This though can make his coffee bushes weaker and more susceptible to disease, and when the price goes down he digs up older coffee trees and plants tea, a crop that is more labour intensive.

Another problem is the weather.

“In recent years we’ve had more and more frost,” he explains, “and that can damage the coffee.”

Mr Zhong has seen two really serious frosts in the two decades he has been coffee farming.

“Before that we hadn’t seen such events for forty years,” he says.

He is a Nescafé farmer, part of the Nescafé Plan which helps farmers grow viable, healthy crops and he is nearly fifty.  He hopes his younger daughter will take over the family farm.

But his neighbor, Zhou San, another Nescafé farmer, is concerned that changes to the climate might mean the next generation runs into problems.

As well as farming coffee he operates a small workshop to hull the dried green coffee beans for his neighbours before they are sold to Nestlé.


“I feel strongly about climate change,” he declares, standing in front of the machinery he has invested in to build up his business.


“Sometimes it’s far too hot, at other times too cold.  It’s not like it was before when it was pretty much stable,” he says.  “This can affect yield and quality.”

Nescafé agronomist Liu Wen Bing works with 600 farmers across the Pu’er region helping them build sustainable businesses that can adapt to changing conditions.

“We know that in agriculture chemicals have damaged the environment over many years,” he says, “so we are helping our farmers to find alternatives”.

So Liu Wen Bing and his team are also training the farmers on news ways to manage their crops. Simple measures like careful pruning helps increase the amount of coffee each plant produces, and watering at key points in the crop cycle reduces the amount of water each plant uses. 

But climate change is the bigger challenge. 

Nestlé has committed to provide climate change leadership and is reducing greenhouse gas emissions across its own operations every year. In the Nescafé warehouse in Pu’er, the importance of such efforts is clear.

Nestlé needs to secure a sustainable flow of good quality green coffee for the world’s favourite coffee brand Nescafé.


During harvest time they handle 180 metric tonnes of beans each day here.

Unless the world takes the climate change challenge seriously, the Chinese farmers who supply the warehouse, and those who come after them, may find it harder in future to grow coffee successfully.

The risk then would be that they would turn to other crops, making it harder to secure the good quality supplies needed so that everyone, everywhere can enjoy a great cup of coffee.