Cultivated and wild coffee plants alike are facing various threats, a changing climate high among them.
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world with well over 2 billion cups of it consumed daily. Yet cultivated and wild coffee plants alike are facing various threats, a changing climate high among them. In fact, coffee yields could plummet by 50% in coming decades, experts have warned.
A solution, according to a team of scientists from Uganda and the United Kingdom, lies in changing the way farmers grow coffee plants in the face of warming temperatures and less predictable rainfall.
Currently, the global supply of coffee depends on two species with the more flavorful Arabica (Coffea arabica) accounting for around 55% of global production and Robusta for most of the rest. However, this dependence poses a threat to global coffee supplies because Arabica plants are especially vulnerable to changes in weather patterns.
“In 2021 and 2022, shortfalls in global stocks of these two crop species led to a dramatic increase in the price of coffee, which in the case of Arabica resulted in a short-term doubling of commodity prices,” the scientists note in a study.
A main culprit was droughts in major coffee-producing countries like Brazil, which, along with other climatic threats “demonstrate the link between weather perturbations and market price, and the vulnerability of coffee to abiotic stressors,” the experts add.
In order to fortify their crops against climate-related stresses, the scientists say, coffee growers have three main options. They can move to more suitable areas, they can change how they cultivate their plants, or they can switch from Arabica to more resilient coffee plant varieties such as Liberica.
This third option is the most feasible for most coffee growers, yet Coffea liberica, which originated in western and central Africa, currently accounts for less than 2% of commercially grown coffee.
This variety has proven to be more resilient to changing weather conditions at various sites worldwide where it is grown. In another benefit, the beans stay on the plants after maturing, which makes harvesting easier, the scientists explain.
There are downsides, however, including tougher skin on cherries, which makes it more difficult to process them. “They can also start to ferment if not harvested as soon as they ripen, which ruins the taste of the coffee,” the scientists add.
That said, with Arabica plants increasingly losing out to climate change, switching to more resilient Liberica beans might be one way for us to save our daily cuppas.
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