The Danger Of Climate Change on Coffee

| May 29, 2015

More than 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world everyday. There are an amazing 25 million families that depend on coffee growing for their living. Just over the past 15 years, the consumption of coffee has increased by a huge 43%. With this much growth, it’s no wonder that many are saying one of the most popular types of coffee, Arabica, is now under threat of extinction.

Ethiopian Coffee Farmers

Ethiopian Coffee Farmers

Arabica Species

Although there are currently 124 known species of coffee, most of the coffee that is grown and consumed comes from just 2 of the most popular. Arabica, and Robusta. Robusta makes up around 30% of the global coffee produced, and is used mainly in instant coffee, especially cheaper branded coffee. It is a strong coffee plant, and because of this its flavours do not compare with the smooth and complex flavour of the alternative Arabica.

Arabica is what drives the coffee industry, and accounts for most of the coffee that is grown worldwide. However, Arabica, is not a robust plant like Robusta, its more fragile, and can only tolerate a small range of environmental conditions. In particular, its extremely sensitive to changes in temperature and also rainfall.

Arabica Research

A research team from UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens revealed in 2012 a negative picture for the growth conditions of wild coffee in Ethepira, where the majority of Arabica is grown. They used computer modelling to predict the environmental changes that would affect Arabica for the rest of the century, and it was not good. They forecast that the number of locations where it was possible to grow wild Arabica coffee would decline by as much as 85% by 2080. Something has to be done soon, before the possibility that the plant becomes extinct.

The report by the Uk team made headlines around the world, and made the coffee industry stand up and take notice. The team from Kew have joined with partners in Ethiopia, comparing a huge 25,000km patch of land, and visiting coffee producing areas in an effort to compare what they have predicted, with what is happening in reality. It’s important that research and analysis takes place on the ground to ensure that the accuracy of readings is sound, and feedback can also been gained from talking to the native farmers.

Protecting Arabica

The industry is working so hard to safeguard its prized nector, that the team is even working with the Ethiopian government to find solutions to the problem, such as moving production to higher grounds, where climate change is avoided, and the temperature is cooler. This however, is only part of the solution.

The future of Arabica

More studies have had to take place about the plant itself, as very little has been known fundamentally about it. It was only at the end of the 19th century that scientists discovered that the wild Arabica was an Ethiopian plant, rather than as the name suggested, and Arabian one. The work of mapping wild Arabica was only completed a few years ago by Ethiopian wild coffee specialist Dr Tadesse Woldemariam Gole. We now know that wild Ariba only grows in southern Ethiopia. Something that makes it even more imperative that we adjust the plant’s growing conditions to handle the challenge of climate change.

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