Published November 8, 2012
What would life be like without coffee?
In a world that drinks 1.6 billion cups each day, the prospect probably gives a lot of us the jitters. But a new study led by London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, warns that, thanks to climate change, the most consumed coffee species, Arabica, could be extinct in the wild by 2080.
Calm down; things aren’t quite as black as you might think. The study is about wild coffee plants, while the stuff in our cups is brewed from their domesticated descendants. Still, wild losses leave cultivated crops genetically vulnerable to a host of enemies, which could ultimately lead to lower quality and higher prices for coffee consumers.
“Arabica’s history is punctuated by problems with diseases, pests, and productivity problems—and growers have always gone back to the wild and used genetic diversity to address them,” said Aaron Davis, head of RGB Kew’s coffee research program.
There are only two main types of cultivated coffee, Arabica (which comes from the wild plant Coffea arabica) and Robusta (derived from Coffea canephora). But there are more than 125 species in the wild, with more still being discovered, said Davis, who has been researching coffee plants for 15 years.
“That’s one of the things that really surprised me when I first started working with wild coffee,” he said. “I mean, here’s this immensely important crop, and we don’t even know what all the species are yet! And among all those wild species, there are certainly useful genes.”