We enjoy coffee daily thanks to commercial coffee farmers or manufacturers, no doubt about that. But did you know that wild coffee species is now under a threat? Researchers said that 60% of them, including Arabica, can possibly go extinct.
If you’re familiar with coffee, you’ll know that the coffee industry relies on two main types of coffee, Arabica and Robusta. Robusta is known for its sort of heavy, bitter taste. And even though some like this taste, most coffee lovers prefer Arabica.
Robusta is also known to be less sensitive to insects, easier to tend to on farms, and it has higher yield because of its natural extra caffeine content. However, Arabica is more widely used in commercial coffee farming and it’s well-known for its disease resistance. It’s unfortunate that the wild species of the latter is slipping away from existence.
For those of you who don’t know, most wild coffee species inhabit the forests of Africa and Madagascar. Right now, climate change, natural habitat loss, pests, and diseases are the major cause of this problem.
Scientists also stated that locations where Arabica grows in Ethiopia could decrease up to 85% by 2080. Moreover, up to 60% of the land used to cultivate Ethiopia’s coffee production might not be unsuitable by the end of this century.
This is a problem to the country, as Ethiopia is Africa’s biggest coffee exporter with an estimated annual $1 billion worth of the crop. Not only that, there are about 15 million people who rely their incomes in coffee production. Wild Arabica coffee is not only native to the country, it’s also an important stock for coffee farming as well as coffee production. So you see, losing this plant would damage the country’s economy.
Furthermore, the damage won’t be for the economy only. Wild coffee plants could hold the key to crossbreeding coffee varieties so that the commercial coffee ones could be more resilient to the effects of climate change as well as other diseases and pests. We need the wild ones to survive if we want to keep enjoying the coffee we have today.
Read also: “Saving A Species Is Easy,” Carl Jones Said
We should thank scientists from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for this discovery. They did an examination of 124 known coffee species and analyzed them. The conclusion (also based on the assessment for International Union for Conservation of Nature) was that the wild relative of Arabica is now classed as endangered.
Kew lead author of the Science Advances Paper and head of coffee research Aaron Davis said, “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,”
“The use and development of wild coffee resources could be key to the long-term sustainability of the coffee sector. Targeted action is urgently required in specific tropical countries, particularly in Africa, to protect the future of coffee.”
Some ways we can do to improve this situation include preventing deforestation, encouraging reforestation, and researching the wide variety of coffee plants as well as diseases and pests that damage them. Davis suggested nature reserves and protected areas specifically for the declining wild coffee species.
Fortunately, Davis added that there was already a plan for protected areas for wild Arabica conservation in Ethiopia. He also called for renewed focus on germplasm collections including seed banks and living collections with a purpose of effectiveness and sustainability for the long term.
Additionally, Davis advised for informative coffee labelling so consumers can become aware of how their purchasing choices impact the nature. He said, “At the moment there are lots of different types of certification but very few cover forest preservation and none detail their negative environmental impact.”
Since this decline might be caused by the way farmers have been pushed into loss with slim rewards, Davis suggested to raise prices as well. “Coffee farmers around the world are in many cases the guardians of cultivated coffee’s sensory diversity, If prices remain low for too long some farmers will eventually stop growing coffee and we will lose much of what makes coffee special.”
“This is the first time an IUCN Red List assessment has been carried out to find the extinction risk of the world’s coffee, and the results are worrying,” said Eimear Nic Lughadha, a senior research leader in Kew’s conservation department.
“A figure of 60% of all coffee species threatened with extinction is extremely high, especially when you compare this to a global estimate of 22% for plants. 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,” Lughadha stated.
Head of IUCN Red List unit Craig Hilton-Taylor said, “The climate change impacts on Arabica coffee raise serious environmental, economic and social concerns, particularly for the millions of smallholder farmers that rely on this crop for their livelihood. The numerous wild relatives of commercially grown crops such as Arabica coffee are essential to ensure the resilience of cultivated coffee in the face of climate change and other threats.”
Good and bad news
There is a spark of hope that comes out of this research. Apparently, there’s a species of coffee called Coffea Stenophylla or the “highland coffee” of Sierra Leone. This coffee is famous for its exquisite flavor and the wild variety of this species had been nowhere in sight for decades. However, researchers found a few plants by walking through dense forest to an isolated hilltop for hours.
Sadly though, scientists added that this area was prone to human meddlings and deforestation. Therefore, this species might be gone as soon as it was rediscovered.
Aside of this concerning discovery, the research and studies give us a message too. Davis stated, “We hope our findings will be used to influence the work of scientists, policy makers and coffee sector stakeholders to secure the future of coffee production — not only for coffee lovers around the world, but also as a source of income for farming communities in some of the most impoverished places in the world.”
Well, if we want to keep wild coffee species thriving and if we don’t want to stop enjoying coffee in our daily lives, we know what we must do. And we’ve gotta start now.