Science

Sustainability of global coffee production 'at risk'

Sustainability of global coffee production 'at risk'”

And maybe grab another latte while you still can.

Global coffee trade relies on two species - Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora).

All produce similar beans that you could make a recognisable coffee drink from. "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".

Research published in the journal, Science Advances, found conservation measures were "inadequate" for wild coffees, including those considered "critical" for long-term global coffee production.

"Ultimately, we need to reverse deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions", said Aaron Davis, coffee researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and lead author of the paper.

There are a further 82 species which are more distantly related to the commercial breeds, but scientists could interbreed them with commercial coffees in a lab. Climate change and deforestation are to blame.

The researchers called for a major commitment from countries that grow coffee, particularly African countries such as Ethiopia and South Sudan, to "develop and conserve their wild coffee resources [supported] by the global development and conservation communities".

This new work builds on more than two decades of intensive coffee research at Kew.

"It's going to have to be a fair effort to try and keep up the supply of good quality coffee", Professor Henry said.

What are crop wild relatives?

The news was not good.

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. Thirteen of those species were identified as "critically endangered".

Only 35 species were found "near threatened" or "least concern".

So what's driving all those coffee species to the brink?

Maintaining coffee germplasms in seed banks can be problematic, however. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. And fewer than half of all the wild species are safeguarded in so-called germplasm collections-banks for seed and living plants kept in protected areas as backups. There are other options too, but she says, "Conserving coffee in seed banks and specific field stations is often hard and costly, but may also be needed".

They need to be chilled by liquid nitrogen - a costly process.

Wild coffee species - and wild varieties of the commercial species - are nearly all in decline due to competition for land use and overharvesting of the coffee plant for timber or firewood. In the category of endangered species was, in particular, the wild Arabica.

Davis added that coffee plants grow in very specific natural habitats, so rising temperatures and increased rainfall brought by climate change can make coffee impossible to grow in places the plants once thrived.

Surveying all coffee species worldwide was no easy task.

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

It's the high sugar content in arabica beans that develops those delicious nutty, chocolatey flavours as their roasted. The sole surviving specimen of that wild coffee has inspired wider forest conservation on Rodrigues. "Some other coffee species are naturally low in caffeine, or have an excellent (and unusual) flavor", she says.

The Central American coffee rust outbreak that began in the 2011-2012 harvest season affected 70% of farms in the region, resulting in over 1.7m lost jobs and US$3.2 billion in damage and lost income.



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