Almost two thirds, or 60%, of the 124 known endangered species of coffee.
The death knell for wild coffee has been played earlier, much to the chagrin of coffee lovers, but a group of scientists is giving the alarm again.
Researchers at Kew Gardens in the UK estimate that nearly two-thirds, or 60%, of the 124 known endangered species of coffee. In some areas, such as Madagascar and around the Indian Ocean, 71% of coffee species are in danger. Of the 75 species of coffee that are endangered worldwide, 13 species can be classified as endangered, 40 as endangered and 22 as vulnerable, they say.
The culprits behind the difficult situation of wild coffee plants are the usual suspects with the loss of habitat and climate change are the primary causes. Increasing temperatures can damage heat-sensitive coffee plants, including the extremely popular Arabica plants that are loved around the world for their rich aroma. Arabica is widely grown in the famous "bean belt", which includes the tropics and includes Brazil, Ethiopia and Vietnam, among other countries.
All the coffee in the world comes from only two cultivated species: arabica is robust. Arabica accounts for 70% of all coffee sales worldwide. The Arabica grows well at around 23 degrees Celsius but suffers at higher temperatures. And local temperatures in different places where it is grown have already shot up to 1.3 degrees Celsius.
Tanzania, where coffee production is an important part of the local economy, has seen coffee production almost halved in the last half century. Cultivations of coffee, which are usually grown on the slopes, are also at increasing risk of succumbing to new diseases such as coffee rust and parasites like a beetle called the coffee bean borerino.
Loss of habitats is another concern. In Ethiopia, home to some of the world's best coffees, the geographical area in which Arabica is currently growing could increase by about 85% in just over half a century. This would have devastated the country's economy, which is the largest coffee producer in Africa that exports $ 1 billion of coffee each year to an industry that employs 15 million people.
"Overall, the fact that the risk of extinction for all species of coffee was so high – almost 60% – is far above the normal endangering values for plants," says Aaron Davis, head of research on coffee at Kew Gardens who was the lead author of the study published in Science Advances. "It's up there with the most endangered plant groups."
Although the two species of cultivated coffee are still good, wild coffee species are not. They are facing various threats, including diseases that could eliminate them. This worries coffee experts because the loss of wild coffee species could greatly reduce the genetic diversity of cultivated coffee plants, which is what has happened with other popular crops such as bananas.
"Among the endangered species of coffee are those that can be used to breed and develop the coffees of the future, including those that are resistant to disease and can withstand worsening climatic conditions," says Davis. "The use and development of wild coffee resources could be the key to the long-term sustainability of the coffee sector," he adds. "A targeted action is urgently required in specific tropical countries, particularly in Africa, to protect the future of coffee".
To protect the besieged coffee plants in nature, their natural environments must also be protected. Forests, that is.