Bad news: A new study released by scientists at the U.K. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has concluded that wild Arabica coffee plants, the parent species of some 70% of the brew we drink every day, is at serious risk of going extinct within this century due to climate change.
The loss of this naturally-growing species could have devastating consequences for the Arabica plants that are grown commercially. This is because commercial growers often seek out the wild plants anytime their crops are impacted by pests or disease, finding those that have naturally evolved to be immune.
“Wild arabica is considered important for the sustainability of the coffee industry due to its considerable genetic diversity,” Kew said. “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.”
The situation is even more dire because wild Arabica is only thought to grow naturally in the highlands of southern Ethiopia and a few regions of neighbouring South Sudan. The plants are so sensitive to radical shifts in climate, that scientists believe some plants in certain parts could perish as soon as 2020; with a worst-case scenario for the entire species of 2080.
”If you lose those natural resources you are really shooting yourself in the foot because you have no back-up for unforeseen changes that could occur in the future in commercial crops,” he said.
It’s estimated that the total genetic diversity of the world’s coffee plantations is less than 5% of what exists in the wild and perhaps as low as 1%.
“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,” Kew added.
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