Three out of five wild coffee species are at risk of extinction because a deadly mix of climate change, disease and deforestation endangers the future of the world's favorite beverage, according to what he warned on Wednesday.
More than two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day, but the multibillion-dollar industry depends on the wild varieties grown in a few regions to maintain the variety of commercial crops and adapt to the changing threats posed by pests.
Scientists at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens of Great Britain have used the latest computer modeling techniques and field research to predict how the 124 varieties of endangered coffee could do without how the planet continues to warm up and ecosystems are decimated.
On the edge of the extinction
About 75 species of coffee have been evaluated as endangered: 13 classified as endangered, 40 threatened with extinction, including Arabica coffee and 22 as vulnerable.
"Overall, the fact that the risk of extinction of all species of coffee was so high – almost 60% – is much higher than the normal risk of extinction for plants," said Aaron Davis, head of research on coffee of Kew.
"It's up there with the most endangered plant groups, but it's not surprising because many species are hard to find, they grow in restricted areas … some have a population only the size of a football field."
The global coffee production is currently based on only two species: arabica and robust.
Arabica, appreciated for its acidity and taste, represents about 60% of all coffee sold worldwide. It exists in nature in only two countries: Ethiopia and South Sudan.
The Kew team has accessed access to weather data recorded in Ethiopia dating back more than 40 years to measure the speed with which the natural habitat of coffee was eroded by deforestation and rising temperatures.
They found that almost a third of all wild Arabica species were grown outside conservation areas.
"You also have the fact that many of those protected areas are still threatened by deforestation and the invasion, so it does not mean they are safe," said Davis, lead author of the research published in the journal Science Advances.
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In addition to the inconvenience – not to mention drowsiness – consumers would face a coffee deficit, the authors expressed concern about the livelihood of farmers, many of whom were forced to relocate while climate change devastated their collected.
"Ethiopia is the home of Arabica coffee," said Tadesse Woldermariam Gole, senior researcher for the environment, climate change and coffee at the Forest Forum.
"Given the importance of Arabica coffee in Ethiopia and in the world, we must do our best to understand the risks of its survival".
According to Davis, the wholesalers had to make sure that the producers received a fair price, so that they could produce future-proof by investing in better farming practices and conserving a varied stock.
In addition, governments must preserve and regenerate forests to help cultivate wild and cultivated coffee more easily, said the research team.
Davis wanted to emphasize, however, that there is no shortage of one of the world's most precious raw materials.
"As a coffee drinker you do not have to worry in the short term," he said.
"What we are saying is that, in the long run, if we do not act now to preserve those key resources, we will not have a very bright future for coffee agriculture."
The new study found the enigmatic coffea stenophylla, known as the coffee of the Sierra Leone plateau, which is said to exceed the Arabica in flavor.
It had not been seen in the wild since 1954, and has almost disappeared from the coffee plantations and botanical gardens.
But a December 2018 expedition to the last known location found a single plant followed by others after several hours of trekking.