In this study, we used image-processing techniques to examine the spatial pattern of land-use and land-cover (LULC) change that occurred in the coffee growing area in the Western Ghats of India during the international coffee crisis in the 1990s. The study also ascertains the driving forces of these changes using qualitative research methods that include archival studies and interviews of knowledgeable individuals. We analyzed Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) for 1991 and Landsat ETM+ for 2002 to quantify LULC. Historical land-use changes in different land ownership regimes were also analyzed. Global coffee market fluctuations were found to be the major cause of landscape change in the study region. When the global coffee prices increased, more forested areas were cleared for coffee cultivation. Failure of global coffee market forced farmers to convert land from subsistence farming (rice) to short-period commercial crops like ginger. This also resulted in land degradation in rice paddies. For the farmers in the Western Ghats, LULC decisions are one of the methods used to cope with the vulnerability created due to the international coffee crisis. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.