Coffee is under threat as 60% of bean species face extinction


"Ultimately, we need to reverse deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions", said Aaron Davis, coffee researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and lead author of the paper.

The global coffee trade now relies on only two species - Arabica (60 per cent) and Robusta (40 per cent) - but given the myriad of emerging and worsening threats to coffee farming globally, other coffee species are likely to be required for coffee crop plant development.

Coffee farmers, who grow either Arabica or Robusta coffee, have already begun to report their crops being affected by changing weather patterns, rising temperatures and new pests and diseases. However, at least 60% of the wild coffee species out there are at risk of extinction, and these could prove crucial to ensuring we continue to get our caffeine fixes in the future. A deadly combination of climate change, disease and deforestation is gradually pushing a multi-billion-dollar industry right to the edge.

In a study published in Science Advances, scientists assessed wild coffee species against the extinction risk criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

"Because if you look at the history of coffee cultivation, we have used wild species to make the coffee crop sustainable".

"What we are saying is that in the long term if we don't act now to preserve those key resources we don't have a very bright future for coffee farming".

Harvested coffee beans at a coffee plantation in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala.

With that in mind, British researchers set out to examine the extinction risk of the 124 coffee species out there.

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Coffee species are notoriously hard to conserve for a variety of reasons, says Sarada Krishnan, director of horticulture and the Center for Global Initiatives at the Denver Botanic Gardens who was not involved in the study.

To conserve wild coffee species and their genetic diversity, Dr Davis said, we must "devise and manage the world's protected areas more efficiently".

Genetic interbreeding may be the best way to save commercial coffee species.

Coffee trees, like many tropical plants, have seeds that do not survive the freeze-drying process used in conventional seed banks - 45% of coffee species have not been "backed up" outside the wild.

Poor conservation of wild coffee species may end up threatening the supply of the coffee in your cup, researchers have warned.

Ethiopia, for example, is the natural birthplace of wild Arabica coffee and Africa's largest coffee exporter. Still, if you're a coffee fan, you may want to stock up on your favorite roasts sooner rather than later. In the category of endangered species was, in particular, the wild Arabica.

Although the research is sobering to coffee lovers around the world, the intent of the studies was to highlight the need for "appropriate interventions" - such as forest preservation and assisted migration - according to a Kew statement. Even if scientists can boost the percentage of coffee seeds stored in seed banks, The Conversation's Moolna points out that these samples don't hold up in storage as well as crops such as wheat or maize.

This is bad news for the planet, for communities and for coffee drinkers.