Hunting Wild Coffee

merlin_149142180_e389d902-4d9f-4559-b2f6-687d704e15eb-jumbo.jpg

Drying coffee beans in Ethiopia. More than half of all species are at risk of vanishing in the wild because of climate change and deforestation. Maheder Haileselassie/Reuters

As much as I thought I learned in the last year about coffee, I got a hint just now, reading the article below, how steep my learning curve remains. 124 species of coffee? So much to hunt, so little time! Thanks to Somini Sengupta for this story:

15CLI-COFFEE2-jumbo.jpg

Picking coffee berries on a farm in Ethiopia. Maheder Haileselassie/Reuters

Aaron Davis, a British botanist, has spent 30 years trekking across forests and farms to chronicle the fate of one plant: coffee.

He has recorded how a warming planet is making it harder to grow coffee in traditional coffee-producing regions, including Ethiopia, the birthplace of the world’s most popular bean, arabica. He has mapped where farmers can grow coffee next: basically upcountry, where it’s cooler. He has gone searching for rare varieties in the wild.

Now, in what is perhaps his most disheartening research, Dr. Davis has found that wild coffee, the dozens of varieties that once occurred under forest canopies on at least three continents, is at risk of vanishing forever. Among the world’s 124 coffee species, he and a team of scientists have concluded, 60 percent are at risk of extinction in the wild. Climate change and deforestation are to blame.

It matters because those wild varieties could be crucial for coffee’s survival in the era of global warming. In those plants could lie the genes that scientists need to develop new varieties that can grow on a hotter, drier planet.

Ultimately, Dr. Davis said, those wild coffees are vital for the millions of farmers who make a living from coffee, not to mention the many more who rely on caffeine to start their days. (Dr. Davis limits it to “one cup of really good coffee” a day.)

“There are a broad range of traits, which have good potential for addressing specific issues in the future, whether its drought tolerance or disease resistance,” Dr. Davis said by phone from the Royal Botanic Gardens in the London suburb of Kew, where he is a senior researcher. “As we lose those coffees, our options diminish.”

Dr. Davis and his co-authors published their findings Wednesday in two separate papers, in Science Advances and Global Change Biology

Read the whole story here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s