Could Your Morning Cup of Coffee Become Extinct by 2080?

 wild arabica coffee wild arabica South Sudan Leon Kaye Kew Royal Botanic Gardens coffee Climate Change Boma Plateau arabica coffee arabica

Scientists in the United Kingdom recently completed a study suggesting that Arabica coffee, the species that makes up 75 percent of coffee beans sold, could become extinct in 70 years. Due to climate change and its symptoms including deforestation, at team at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens ran a series of computer simulations that indicate that wild Arabica coffee could become extinct by 2080.

Such a development should worry everyone from growers to consumers. Coffee is the second most traded global commodity after petroleum and is an economic lifeline for many countries in Africa and Latin America. Since the Arabica coffee beans grown throughout the world’s coffee farms are from a limited genetic stock, they are susceptible to pests and diseases. Wild Arabica coffee stock offers opportunities for scientists to extract some of its genetic stock to strengthen cultivated varieties and make them more climate change resistant.

The Kew scientists ran a series of analyses to gauge the future of Arabica coffee production in a world affected by climate change. The results showed that by 2080, the most favorable outcome would be that the world would suffer a 38 percent reduction in land suitable for coffee production–but the worst case scenario was a 99.7 percent reduction, which would effectively wipe out wild Arabica plants.

The team then traveled to the Boma Plateau region in South Sudan, a region where coffee cultivation has endured for centuries. The area had already undergone dramatic change, from deforestation to land clearing for agriculture. Compared to earlier studies, the Boma Plateau had suffered environmental degradation, with reduced seedlings, a lower frequency of flowering and fruiting and finally, a decrease in mature pants. Add the fact that coffee has risen in price in recent years because of poor harvests yet continued increased demand, and the long term prospects for coffee could become very grim.

Kew’s scientists hope their study is a clarion call for an increased understanding of coffee’s precarious future. The research team identified a series of sites in eastern Africa that could become home to wild coffee plants. And while deforestation has had a role in decreased coffee yields, climate change alone could be the deciding factor in Arabica beans’ survival. To that end, the Kew study calls for more storage of varieties in seed banks and immediate conservation action. Despite all the actions of fair trade organizations and groups including the Rain Forest Alliance, larger forces could have a huge impact on coffee cultivation in the years to come. Coffee companies will have to step it up if their businesses are to survive in the long term.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.

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3 responses to “Could Your Morning Cup of Coffee Become Extinct by 2080?”

  1. caputscher says :

    Personally, I am not dependent on coffee to get me started in the morning. I’m more of a tea drinker myself, but I understand that a large portion of the world is addicted to caffeine. It’s a shame that we can allow our resources to go extinct at this rate, but maybe this will be the wake-up call our society needs (pun intended).

  2. Clint O'Donnell says :

    This is really interesting, but I cannot say I’m surprised. I don’t drink coffee either, but know too many people who need it to function in the morning. I can’t imagine what alternatives to coffee will exist in the future, but there are already many out there (ex. FiveHour Energy). I recently read that various deaths have been linked to this energy drink, which is another increasingly common problem with manufactered drinks that contain chemicals that most people have never even heard of before. When I think of coffee today I think about Starbucks, and off of their Wikipedia, it says “In 2012, Starbucks began selling a line of iced refresher beverages in its stores which contain an extract from green arabica coffee beans. The beverages are fruit flavored and contain caffeine but, according to the company, “with none of the coffee flavor”. Starbucks’ green coffee extraction process involves soaking the beans in water.” I’m sure that not only this particular line of drinks contains these Arabica coffee beans, so it will be very interesting to see how coffee distributors will be affected.

  3. Richard Boss says :

    It is interesting that coffee beans will be extinct before long, but not very surprising since so many people drink coffee. Along with this, many other plants in the world are becoming extinct. Climate change brings this sort of problem because over the years, more and more species of animals and plants are going to die off. We’re just getting closer towards being completely wiped off of the earth.

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