Science Advances reports that climate change and deforestation are pushing a variety of popular coffee species toward extinction. Deforestation, disease, human encroachment, and global warming make course correction quite the uphill battle and conservation measures may not be enough to protect the wild coffee species for too much longer.
“As temperatures increase and rainfall decreases – the suitable area for growing … diminishes,” says Aaron Davis, the head of coffee research at Kew.
Many popular commercial coffees, like Arabica and Robusta, will be gravely affected if urgent action isn’t implemented in countries hit hardest by climate change. Madagascar and Tanzania are just a few of the forested areas most impacted and the prognosis is steadily worsening. Unfortunately, it won’t just be coffee left decimated in the wake of this phenomenon, but the earnings of the 100 million people producing coffee all around the world, particularly Ethiopia.
“It’s a tragedy losing any wild species, whether it’s a bird or plant or animal, that’s bad enough,” said Davis. “But when you’ve got a crop that supports the livelihoods of 100 million people just in production in coffee farming, then you look at the value of high street coffee chains and supermarket coffee, it’s enormous.”
Ethiopia is coffees largest exporter, as it accounts for an annual export value of $1 billion. With computer modeling, researchers were able to predict that areas that farm the at-risk species to decrease by about 85%. Of the 75 coffee species that made the threatened list, 15 are classified as critically endangered. The rise in temperature will make pests more prevalent which will, in turn, increase the use of pesticides.
Even the mildest change in climate will dramatically alter the quality of arabica coffee – a plant more vulnerable than most to environmental fluctuations. This will inevitably introduce the need to farm the plant somewhere more conducive to growth. The last domino to fall will be the coffee industry in the United States. Consumers could very easily find themselves paying a lot more for much lower quality in the proceeding decades.
“If you start to lose these species the options for developing resilient coffee for the future diminishes very rapidly,” Davis Added
For now, seed banks, plant collections, and increased conservation in the natural environment are the best we can do to support Africa in his fight to preserve one of its most profitable resources.