Forget Brexit, the true threat to our nation’s future stability might be a distinct lack of caffeine, as 60% of the world’s coffee plants are now threatened with extinction.
Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew have revealed that 75 of the 124 coffee species we drink could be wiped out – if current trends in deforestation and climate change continue. There’s also the worsening problem of fungal disease and pests to deal with.
There are 13 coffee species in the “most at-risk” category, while 40 are endangered and 22 vulnerable to extinction. The level of risk for coffee is much higher than for plants as a whole – an estimated 22% of plant species worldwide are threatened with extinction.
One of the most worrying victims is the wild Arabica species. Grown in Ethiopia, it now provides 60% of the global coffee supply, but is becoming endangered due to localised climate change and rising temperatures.
Farmers have already started to report their crops being affected by changing weather patterns and rising temperatures, as well as new pests and diseases.
“What we’re saying is 60% is just really high, that’s a real wake-up call,” says Kew’s head of coffee Dr Aaron Davis. “For a major global commodity, that starts ringing alarm bells.”
Davis says it’s of course a tragedy losing any wild species (whether a bird plant or animal), but coffee is particularly worrying.
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“When you’ve got a crop that supports the livelihoods of 100 million people just in production in coffee farming, then you look at value of high street coffee chains and supermarket coffee, it’s enormous,” Davis says.
Less than 50% of the wild coffee species are held in seed banks or living plant collections and more than 28% are not known to occur in any protected areas, the scientists also warned.
The researchers have called for increased conservation in the natural environment, as well as in seed banks and plant collections. They’ve also urged support for the African countries where most wild species are found to help them protect their coffee resources.