Your morning cup of coffee may be at risk

Your morning cup of coffee may be at risk

by Shruthi Venkatesh January 21 2019, 4:09 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 52 secs

Scientists have found that more than 60% of the world’s coffee plants are in the edge of extinction. As reported by the BBC, more than 100 types of coffee trees grow naturally in the forests. Among them only two of those types are used for the coffee we drink. Scientists say that this estimation is “extremely high” as one in five of the world's plants is threatened with extinction.

The vast majority of wild coffee grows in the remote forests of Africa and on the island of Madagascar. Beyond Africa, wild coffee is found in other tropical climates, including parts of India, Sri Lanka, and Australia. Dr Aaron Davis of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says, “If it wasn't for wild species we wouldn’t have as much coffee to drink in the world today, because if you look at the history of coffee cultivation, we have used wild species to make the coffee crop sustainable.”

Arabica Coffee (Be Brazil)

Research published in the journal, Science Advances, states that 75 wild coffee species are considered threatened with extinction, 35 are not threatened and too little is known about the remaining 14 to make any judgement. Also 28% of wild coffee species grow outside protected areas and only about half are preserved in seed banks.

Among the thousand different blends of coffee on sale, the Coffea Arabica and Coffea robusta are the two species used for consumption. The third species Coffea liberica is grown around the world, but is rarely used for coffee drinks. The BBC reports there are 122 coffee species which naturally occur in the wild. Many of these wild coffees do not taste good to drink, but may contain genes that can be harnessed to help coffee plants survive in the future, amid climate change and emerging diseases that attack coffee trees. Now, there is a need to call on wild species to safeguard the future of the world's coffee crop, say researchers. “We will call on those wild resources time and time again,” said Dr Davis.

Ethiopia is the home of Arabica coffee, where it grows naturally in upland rainforests. Wild Arabica is used to supply seeds for coffee farming and also as a harvested crop in its own right. Another study done in Global Change Biology, found that wild Arabica coffee which are now threatened up for extinction are considered with climate change projections too. Its natural population is likely to shrink by up to 50% or more by 2088 because of climate change alone, according to the research. “Given the importance of Arabica coffee to Ethiopia, and to the world, we need to do our utmost to understand the risks facing its survival in the wild,” said Dr Tadesse Woldemariam Gole, of the Environment and Coffee Forest Forum in Addis Ababa. 

The scientists now call out for resources which would overcome these threats. They also predict the risk of coffee farming. Researchers have found that 45% of coffee species have not been “backed up” outside the wild. Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha of Kew says, “We hope this new data will highlight species to be prioritised for the sustainability of the coffee production sector, so that appropriate action can be taken to safeguard the species,” considering the IUCN Red List assessment that has been carried out to find the extinction risk of the world’s coffee, as extremely high.

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