Two newly published studies have found that supplies of one of the world's most beloved drinks may be under threat from environmental degradation.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on January 21, 2019

The pair of papers, published in Science Advances and Global Change Biology found that climate change, urban sprawl and widespread deforestation could see 75 wild coffee species (60% of all known wild coffee varieties) become extinct.

Increases in temperature and declines in rainfall could also spell doom for many species.

The potential impact of the loss of wild coffee bean species

Among those beans under threat are the Arabica bean, the dominant cultivar, and a key component of mega-popular blends such as Jamaican Blue Mountain and Java. The authors of the Global Change Biology study believe it could decline by 50% by 2088.

The other mega-popular bean, Robusta, is also under threat.

Many of the coffee varieties are not currently cultivated nor consumed but they could be the key to maintaining diversity and are considered likely to be necessary for the introduction of new crops.

The Science Advances article noted that there are some conservation frameworks in place for wild coffee species, but concludes that these are “inadequate”.

The economic impact of the beans becoming extinct could also be disastrous with around 100 million farmers worldwide involved in harvesting coffee. Countries which could be particularly impacted include Madagascar, where 43 species (72% of its total species) are threatened and Tanzania, which has 12 species (72% of its total) under threat.

Ways to save threatened wild coffee bean species

One option to preserve the diversity of coffee beans as environmental conditions change is genetic interbreeding. Helen Chadburn, a Scientist at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and one of the authors of the Science Advances study, told Popular Mechanic that many of the wild species had valuable genetic qualities such as pest resistance and drought tolerance that may be vital in developing new cultivated coffees.

Some scientists have also investigated whether wild coffee species can be kept alive through gene banks. This is difficult in the case of coffee, however, as the seeds will not germinate if frozen. The process is also labour and cost-intensive and may be out of reach for the developing nations where much of the world’s coffee supply originates.

These new studies provide new insight into the impact of climate change on the coffee industry and follow a number of other major studies forecasting widespread disruption caused by rising temperatures.

Header image: Asoggetti