Climate change could kill the Arabica coffee bean

Comments Off November 12, 2012 at 11:37 am by Food in Canada magazine staff

Surrey, U.K. – Future coffee drinkers and many of today’s coffee drinkers will have to wake up and smell the fact that they’ll no longer be able to get a cup of coffee if climate change continues on its current course.

Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (a plant science and conservation organization), along with scientists in Ethiopia, say climate change alone could lead to the extinction of the wild Arabica coffee bean well before the end of this century.

The scientists say the wild Arabica is considered important for the sustainability of the coffee industry due to its considerable genetic diversity.

Arabica unlikely to cope

The Arabicas grown in the world’s coffee plantations are from very limited genetic stock and are unlikely to have the flexibility required to cope with climate change and other threats, such as pests and diseases.

In Ethiopia, the largest producer of coffee in Africa, climate change will also have a negative influence on coffee production.

The climate sensitivity of Arabica is confirmed, supporting the widely reported assumption that climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide.

Loss will hurt several economies

These are worrying prospects for the world’s favourite beverage – the second most traded commodity after oil, and one crucial to the economies of several countries.

The research was published in the science journal, PLOS ONE, on Nov. 7, 2012.

The study, which used computer modelling, represents the first of its kind for wild Arabica coffee.

In fact, modelling the influence of climate change on naturally occurring populations of any coffee species has never been undertaken. Surprisingly, even studies on plantation coffee have been limited, despite the concerns of farmers and other industry stakeholders.

Research

The researchers used field study and “museum” data (including herbarium specimens) to run bioclimatic models for wild Arabica coffee, in order to deduce the actual (recorded) and predicted geographical distribution for the species.

The distribution was then modelled through time until 2080, based on the Hadley Centre Coupled Model, version 3 (HadCM3), a leading model used in climate change research, and the only one available that covered the desired time intervals, for several emission scenarios, at the resolution required (1 km).

Three different emission scenarios over three time intervals (2020, 2050, 2080) were used. The models showed a profoundly negative influence on the number and extent of wild Arabica populations.

Justin Moat, head of Spatial Information Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says, “The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080. This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.

“Our aim is to develop and apply these analyses to other important and threatened plants, on a routine basis. There is an immense amount of information held in museum collections around the world, such as Kew, and we have only just started to unlock their potential for assessing some of society’s most pressing issues.”