Climate change threatens sweet smell of morning coffee

Thu Nov 8, 2012 9:17am EST
 
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Rising temperatures due to climate change could mean wild arabica coffee is extinct in 70 years, posing a risk to the genetic sustainability of one of the world's basic commodities, scientists said.

Although commercial coffee growers would still be able to cultivate crops in plantations designed with the right conditions, experts say the loss of wild arabica, which has greater genetic diversity, would make it harder for plantations to survive long-term and beat threats like pests and disease.

A study by researchers at Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in collaboration with scientists in Ethiopia found that 38 to 99.7 percent of the areas suitable for wild arabica will disappear by 2080 if predictions of rising temperatures pan out.

Because coffee is a highly climate-dependent crop, the increase of a few degrees of average temperature in growing regions can put at risk the future of Arabica coffee and the livelihood of millions of people who grow and produce it.

"The extinction of arabica coffee is a startling and worrying prospect," said Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, who led the study.

In a telephone interview, he said the findings made it even more important for organizations such as the World Coffee Research collaboration to continue work to improve the genetic strength of cultivated arabica by preserving wild types.

Researchers used computer modeling to analyze the influence of rising temperatures on the geographical distribution of wild arabica coffee.

The results, published in a the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE, showed a "profoundly negative influence" on the number and extent of wild arabica populations, the researchers said.   Continued...

 
A woman inspects coffee berries in a plantation near Viota in Cundinamarca province March 2, 2012. Colombia, the world's largest producer of high-quality Arabica beans, exported 7.7 million 60kg bags in 2011 and it is currently the third producer of coffee in the world. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez