From: Helen Nyambura-Mwaura, Reuters
Published February 11, 2010 07:02 AM

Climate change affecting Kenya's coffee output

Climate change has affected Kenyan coffee production through unpredictable rainfall patterns and excessive droughts, making crop management and disease control a nightmare, a researcher said on Thursday.

Intermittent rainfall in the 2007/08 crop year, for example, caused a terrible bout of the Coffee Berry Disease that cut Kenyan output 23 percent to 42,000 metric tons as farmers were caught out by rains and did not protect their crop in time.

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"We have seen climate change in intermittent rainfall patterns, extended drought and very high temperatures," said Joseph Kimemia, director of research at Kenya's Coffee Research Foundation (CRF).

"Coffee operates within a very narrow temperature range of 19-25 degrees (Celsius). When you start getting temperatures above that, it affects photosynthesis and in some cases, trees wilt and dry up. We have see trees drying up in some marginal coffee areas."

For coffee to flower, for example, it needs a couple of months of dry weather followed by showers. This year, Kenya had rains in January, normally a very dry month when the bushes undergo what is known as stress before they flower.

Because of the unpredictable weather, bushes are flowering when they should not and have coffee berries at different stages of maturity. This means farmers have to hire labor through most of the year to pick very few kilos of coffee.

"You look at a coffee tree and cannot determine the season because it has beans of all ages. That is a problem when it comes to disease management, insect management and the worst problem is in harvesting," he said. "The cost is enormous."

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE61A0WA20100211

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