Two new scientific papers show how climate change is affecting species of coffee plants in Africa, Australia and Asia. The findings of these research studies have big implications for coffee drinkers, coffee producers and everyone else involved in this massive global industry.
At issues is the survivability of what is known as “wild coffee.” These are some 124 species of coffee that grow naturally in forests in coffee growing climates of Africa, Asia and Australia.
Most coffee consumers do not drink coffee from wild species. Rather, we drink two species, Arabica and Robusta, that are not currently threatened with extinction. But the fate of the massive worldwide coffee industries that have formed around Arabica and Robusta are closely linked to that of wild coffee. If wild coffee continues on its trajectory toward extinction, the gene pool from which Robusta and Arabica can draw to adapt in the face of evolutionary threats will dry up. That means coffee itself may become a threatened species of plant.
Dr. Aaron Davis is Senior Research Leader and head of Coffee Research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He was involved in both of these papers. He explains the link between wild coffee and climate change, and why having wild coffee is necessary for the long term viability of the coffee we consumers drink.
We kick off talking more generally about the science of coffee before having a longer conversation about the broader broader social and economic implications of his research into climate change and coffee excitation.
If you have 20 minutes and want to learn how climate change is affecting coffee production, have a listen.
Davis, A.P., Chadburn, H., Moat, J., O’Sullivan, R., Hargreaves, S. & Lughadha, E.N. (2019). High extinction risk for wild coffee species and implications for coffee sector sustainability. Science Advances, 5 : eaav3473. Available online
Moat, J., Gole, T.W. & Davis, A.P. (2018). Least concern to endangered: Applying climate change projections profoundly influences the extinction risk assessment for wild Arabica coffee. Gobal Change Biology, 1-14. Available online.