Threats to the World’s Wild Coffee Supply Are Putting Your Morning Cup at Risk

January 17, 2019, 11:38 AM UTC

Poor conservation of wild coffee species may end up threatening the supply of the coffee in your cup, researchers have warned.

We only really use two species of coffee, Arabica and robusta, for the coffee we drink. The farmed versions of these species are not directly at risk of extinction right now. However, at least 60% of the wild coffee species out there are at risk of extinction, and these could prove crucial to ensuring we continue to get our caffeine fixes in the future.

The wild relatives of domesticated crops provide an expanded gene pool that can allow food producers to grow crops with better resistance to droughts, nasty fungi, diseases and pests.

All these problems are threatening the global coffee sector, with climate change being a significant factor. So those wild relatives are crucial for the long-term sustainability of the coffee sector.

With that in mind, British researchers set out to examine the extinction risk of the 124 coffee species out there. Their work was published Wednesday in Science Advances.

Bad news: at least 60% of the coffee species out there are facing extinction and, notably, the wild variant of Arabica is classified as being threatened. Wild Arabica is getting harder to collect and breed, thanks to climate change, rapid deforestation and genetic erosion.

“Coffee [crop wild relatives] have provided major sustainability solutions for the global coffee sector for the last 400 years and to the present day,” the researchers wrote. “It is highly likely that similar resources will be called on again to deal with production issues, particularly those linked to disease, pests, and worsening climatic suitability, especially as the global demand for coffee increases.”

The researchers called for a major commitment from countries that grow coffee, particularly African countries such as Ethiopia and South Sudan, to “develop and conserve their wild coffee resources [supported] by the international development and conservation communities.”