A jolt for coffee lovers: Arabica beans doomed to extinction?
Pat Hewitt, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, November 12, 2012 2:18PM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 12, 2012 9:29PM EST
While climate change proponents warn of more earthquakes, fires and floods if the brakes aren’t put on global warming - here’s some news that will really make coffee lovers downright jittery.
Climate change could wipe out most of the world’s coffee beans by 2080.
A sobering study that will have readers savoring the aroma from that double double cup of joe says wild Arabica beans that are used in 70 per cent of the world’s coffee could evaporate from the planet.
“The extinction of Arabica coffee is a startling and worrying prospect,” lead researcher Aaron Davis, with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London, England, said in a statement.
His team along with scientists in Ethiopia found climate change could make some land unsuitable for Arabica plants, which are from limited genetic stock and are at risk from temperature change, pests and disease.
Their best-case scenario? Rising world temperatures will lead to a 38 per cent reduction in land capable of yielding Arabica before the end of the century.
If that alone doesn’t leave coffee drinkers snapping their stirring sticks - the researchers’ estimates are conservative, said Davis and his study co-authors from the Environment and Coffee Forest Forum in Addis Ababa. Their computer modelling did not factor in the large-scale deforestation taking place in Ethiopia and South Sudan , diseases, changing flowering times or a potential shrinking bird population to disperse coffee seeds - all which could speed up the process.
In the forests of South Sudan, the home of Arabica, researchers are already seeing a disturbing decline. A lack of seedlings and mature plants and low flowering frequency were found during their visit in April. The plants could disappear by 2020, the researchers fear.
In Ethiopia, the largest producer of coffee in Africa, the outlook is also negative as natural populations, forest coffee and plantations occur in the same places that Arabica coffee grows in the wild.
Poor harvests and strong demand already have coffee percolating at its highest prices in 30 years. In 2009-10, 93.4 million bags were shipped worth US$15.4 billion. The second most traded commodity after oil, coffee is crucial to the economies of several countries including Brazil and Colombia, providing work for 26 million farmers worldwide.
“Coffee plays an important role in supporting livelihoods and generating income, and has become part of our modern society and culture,” added Davis.
The researchers are calling for the development of strategies to ensure the survival of Arabica in the wild.
But coffee lovers don’t need to start hoarding just yet, because much of the coffee produced for international consumption is produced on coffee farms.
According to the Coffee Association of Canada, a large portion of the coffee consumed by Canadians comes from beans grown on plantations, not in the wild.
Extensive investment and research on how to protect farm grown beans will help to maintain crops, said Sandy McAlpine of the Coffee Association of Canada.
“A number of sophisticated producing countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala have for many years significant research initiatives to maintain coffee diversity, increase disease and pest resistance, and also ultimately enhance flavour in the cup,” she said in an email to CTV News.
In fact, key Arabica bean suppliers in Peru and Honduras had a record growing year last year, which helped to moderate prices, she said.
Prof. Rowan Sage agrees with the paper’s findings that wild coffee populations are at risk. However, cultivated coffee is not, he said.
“Cultivated populations of coffee will be impacted for the worse in many areas,” said the University of Toronto ecology professor in an email. “However, by breeding, genetic engineering, and planting new stocks into new regions, there will still be cultivated coffee.”
Sage stressed, however, that areas where beans are grown will still suffer from the negative effects of climate change.
With files from CTV News’ Omar Sachedina