Published: Sun, January 20, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Wild coffee species endangered by habitat loss

Wild coffee species endangered by habitat loss

"Among the coffee species threatened with extinction are those that have potential to be used to breed and develop the coffees of the future, including those resistant to disease and capable of withstanding worsening climatic conditions", said Dr Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Kew.

The global coffee trade now relies on only two species - Arabica (60 per cent) and Robusta (40 per cent) - but given the myriad of emerging and worsening threats to coffee farming globally, other coffee species are likely to be required for coffee crop plant development.

The study published in Science Advances - a collaboration between scientists in the United Kingdom and Ethiopia - says that unless governments and commercial producers ramp up protections for coffee species and stockpile more seeds, it could impact your daily grind. The changing climate may also be leaving plants more vulnerable to disease.

"As a coffee drinker you don't need to worry in the short term", assures Davis. "In another way, it's hardly surprising because a lot of species are hard to find, grow in restricted areas. some have a population only the size of a football pitch". Arabica and robusta are under threat from climate change, and saving the wild coffee plants might be the key to saving your daily cup.

Wild Arabica is used to supply seeds for coffee farming and also as a harvested crop in its own right.

With that in mind, British researchers set out to examine the extinction risk of the 124 coffee species out there. "Some other coffee species are naturally low in caffeine, or have an excellent (and unusual) flavor", she says.

A third species - Liberica (Coffea liberica) is grown around the world, but is rarely used for coffee drinks.

The multi-billion-dollar coffee sector is founded on, and has been sustained through, the use of wild coffee species, researchers said. "Some of the coffee species assessed have not been seen in the wild for more than 100 years, and it is possible that some may already be extinct".

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Arabica beans are at the core of rich, flavorful blends including Javan coffee, Ethiopian sidamo and Jamaican blue mountain.

"Coffee [crop wild relatives] have provided major sustainability solutions for the global coffee sector for the last 400 years and to the present day", the researchers wrote.

Where is wild coffee found?

While some experts suggest we preserve coffee diversity in collections, the Kew Gardens study argues that the sustainability of coffee depends on conservation of these species where they grow, in protected areas and working with communities throughout their native distribution in Africa and Asia.

What are crop wild relatives?

Although the research is sobering to coffee lovers around the world, the intent of the studies was to highlight the need for "appropriate interventions" - such as forest preservation and assisted migration - according to a Kew statement.

The Kew scientists say that compared to other plants, it's more hard and more expensive to keep coffee seeds alive in storage banks.

Overall, the two new studies present a dire vision of coffee's future-or lack thereof.

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