Ecology And Environment
Beans Coffee arabica

How Arabica Coffee could become Extinct

Beans Coffee arabica
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"How Arabica Coffee could become Extinct"
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The scholarly study titled "The Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Arabica Coffee (Coffea arabica): Predicting Future Trends and Identifying Priorities" can be summed up with one brief sentence: the Arabica coffee bean may become extinct.

For those that drink coffee the news could be devastating. The study, done by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, England, reveals evidence that the wild Arabica bean may die off because of accelerating climate change. There are several reasons the bean may go extinct: change in environment, insect infestation, or gradual change in the soil.

The reason why the heightening danger to the wild Arabica bean may eventually lead to the extinction of all coffee beans is because the wild Arabica is the only bean in the world that provides the bio-stock for hybridization of all the other various domestic coffee bean varieties. Without the ability to cross-breed the wild Arabica with other coffee varieties the world's domestic stock of coffee plants—that have little diversity genetically—are at high risk from infections and invasive pests.

The Ethiopian beans are used in about 70 percent of the coffee sold globally and the study has determined they could be extinct by 2080.  

The researchers at Kew worked with a team from the Environment and Coffee Forest Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Projecting the change in climate ahead their models revealed the land would no longer support Arabica bean plants. The reason is that the changing climate would have a significant impact on the temperature and rainfall, as well as gradually change the chemistry of the soil. The Arabica plant thrives only within a narrow temperature range and cannot have too much or too little rainfall. Such conditions are met only in the altitudes of Ethiopia where the plant is indigenous,

Three different computer models were run by the research group that extrapolated the climate change to 2020, 2050, and finally 2080.

The group arrived at a figure of nearly 40 percent reduction in arable land able to support the growth of the wild Arabica. That's the best-case scenario, The worst case is shocking: the land could undergo a 90 to 100 percent loss leading to “high risk of extinction.”

Disturbingly, the Kew study reveals all the models “showed a profoundly negative influence on the number and extent of wild Arabica populations."

The researchers emphasize that their study is weighted toward the conservative side and the data was not dramatized or inflated to arrive at the somewhat dire conclusion.

The researchers also note that they did not factor in the significant deforestation that's currently underway in the forests of Ethiopia and South Sudan—both suitable for Arabica growth. "The models assume intact natural vegetation," write the study's authors, "whereas the highland forests of Ethiopia and South Sudan are highly fragmented due to deforestation."

Other environmental hazards that could impact wild Arabica adversely were also not considered in the study.

Kew concludes that as climate change accelerates the “Optimum cultivation conditions are likely to become increasingly difficult to achieve in many pre-existing coffee growing areas, leading to a reduction in productivity…"

Kew's Head of Coffee Research explains: “Coffee plays an important role in supporting livelihoods and generating income, and has become part of our modern society and culture. The extinction of Arabica coffee is a startling and worrying prospect. However, the objective of the study was not to provide scaremonger predictions for the demise of Arabica in the wild. The scale of the predictions is certainly cause for concern, but should be seen more as a baseline, from which we can more fully assess what actions are required.”

More about this author: Terrence Aym

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