Climate change threatens wild coffee populations

Coffee-lovers take note; climate change could put an end to your daily Starbucks, a new study has found.

The latest research from scientists at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, suggests that climate change could wipe out wild populations of Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) within the next 70 years. 

The scientists used data from museum records and current populations of wild Arabica in Ethiopia to map its distribution until 2080 under different climate scenarios. 

They found that the predicted changes in climate, in line with what’s expected over the coming decades, would have a devastating impact on wild Arabica populations, decreasing their number and extent. The study, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, also confirmed that the Arabica species is sensitive to climate change.

Along with Robusta coffee (Coffea canephora), Arabica is one of the two most important species of coffee economically, accounting for over 60 percent of world production.

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.”

Commercially grown Arabica has a very limited genetic stock – which means your morning latte relies on conserving healthy populations of wild plants in Ethiopia,  the largest producer of coffee in Africa.

“Coffee plays an important role in supporting livelihoods and generating income, and has become part of our modern society and culture. The extinction of Arabica coffee is a startling and worrying prospect,” says Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the RBG.

“However, the objective of the study was not to provide scaremonger predictions for the demise of Arabica in the wild. The scale of the predictions is certainly cause for concern, but should be seen more as a baseline, from which we can more fully assess what actions are required.”