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Research reveals 60 per cent of coffee species are going extinct

Enjoy your coffee rides while you can

Many triathletes will have a morning cup before swim practice, enjoy a coffee ride or have a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. But, according to researchers at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK, 60 per cent of coffee species found in the wild could go extinct, and humans are to blame. The study published in Science Advances, blames climate change, deforestation, droughts and plant diseases are making the future of a lot of types of coffee very uncertain.

The world isn’t at risk of immediately running out of coffee, but the coffee of the future may be less tasty and more expensive. The study concluded that unless governments and commercial producers stockpile seeds and ramp up production of certain species, 75 of the world’s 124 coffee species could be at risk of going extinct in the next 10 to 20 years.

The coffee fruit from which the coffee beans are extracted.

“The important thing to remember is that coffee requires a forest habitat for its survival,” Aaron P. Davis (senior researcher) said to CNN. “With so much deforestation going on around the world, wild coffee species are being impacted at an alarming rate.”

Diminishing crops would also make coffee more expensive while less diversity of coffee would make growing healthy crops in the future more difficult. The diversity of coffee helps develop plants that are more resistant to climate change and pests. Researchers need to preserve the genetic diversity of coffee to be able to inter-breed wild and commercial varieties to create new strains that could be more resistant.

But that may not be possible for much longer as wild species are threatened by more frequent and severe drought, deforestation for agriculture, and climate change. Researchers have found that existing conservation measures are inadequate to their survival. In Ethiopia, three new protected areas have been created recently to save wild arabica coffee.

Arabica which is the world’s most popular type of coffee is already on the endangered list. Davis’ previous research concluded that Arabica could be extinct in 60 years because of mould and fungal infections meaning more of our coffee would be Robusta, the other dominant variety of coffee.

Photo: Antoine Desroches

Arabica and Robusta beans account for 60 and 40 per cent of coffee sold globally and have been farmed in many countries for a very long time. Arabica tends to have a sweeter and softer flavour while robusta is generally stronger and harsher.

The global average of plant species that are endangered is 22 per cent with coffee sitting much higher at 60 per cent. That is because coffee plants grow in very specific natural habitats making them particularly at risk from rising temperatures and increased rainfall brought on by climate change. In Madagascar and Tanzania, more than 70 per cent of wild coffee species that have been so useful to the sustainability of coffee production, are now threatened.

It’s not the first time in human history a major commercial crop that has become a favourite of triathletes is at risk. In the mid-1900s, nearly the entire world’s banana production was wiped out because of a fungus called the Panama disease. Up to that point, the dominant banana species was the Gros Michel, but it was wiped and now we have the Cavendish banana.