Try not to panic, but climate change is killing coffee

Nov 9, 2012
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Try not to panic, but climate change is killing coffee

Your morning cup of coffee could end up a serious luxury rather than an eye-opening essential, scientists have warned, with new research suggesting climate change could have big impact on what ends up in our cups. The cultivated Arabica beans fine coffee roasters rely on are particularly susceptible to increases in temperature, and rising global heat means environments where they grow successfully are disappearing, according to a study by Aaron Davis and a team at the London Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. That's not helped by an increasing shortage of clean genetic material to rejuvenate tired, cultivated stock.

"Arabica's history is punctuated by problems with diseases, pests, and productivity problems" Davis explains, "and growers have always gone back to the wild and used genetic diversity to address them." Although Arabica and Robusta are the two predominant cultivated types of bean, in actual fact there are in excess of 125 species in the wild, with experts suggesting that more are yet to be discovered.

Those wild breeds have proved useful for Arabica growers when crops have proved less hardy than commercial demand requires, and the genetic origins of which date back to a small number of plants from Ethiopia as early as the 17th century. Davis' study looked at the impact of climate change on Ethiopia specifically, finding that the warming planet could scythe away between 66- and near 100-percent of suitable growing conditions for Arabica plants by 2080.

If that happens, sheer rarity of the beans could see the price of a cup of coffee surge to make it a luxury item. The study has identified what Davis describes as "core sites" where wild Arabica plants stand a greater chance of survival, as well as suggesting that seed banks be built up to preserve wild species before they become extinct. That could happen to certain species by 2020, it's warned.

The full study has been published in the PLOS ONE journal this week. Recently, scientists looking at animal species concluded that climate change is killing more types faster than new species are being created.

[via National Geographic; Image credit: Mark Prince]


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