Majority of wild coffee species at risk of extinction

Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the UK have found that 60 per cent of wild coffee species – including the popular Arabica – are at risk of extinction. Current conservation measures are inadequate to ensure the long-term future of the world’s favourite beverage.

Scientists at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, have teamed up with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to assess all 124 coffee species. The found that 60 per cent of all wild coffee species are under threat of extinction due to deforestation, climate change and the spread and increasing severity of fungal pathogens and pests.

Among the threatened wild coffee species is the wild relative of Coffea arabica, the world’s most favourite and most widely traded coffee, which is now on the IUCN Red List of endangered species, largely due to climate change projections.

The multi-billion-dollar coffee industry is based on the use of wild coffee species, according to a Kew press release on the study, so the fact that over half of all coffee species are threatened with extinction is an extremely concerning outcome.

“This is the first time an IUCN Red List assessment has been carried out to find the extinction risk of the world’s coffee, and the results are worrying. A figure of 60 per cent of all coffee species threatened with extinction is extremely high, especially when you compare this to a global estimate of 22 per cent for plants,” explained Eimear Nic Lughadha, senior research leader in Kew’s Conservation Department.

“Some of the coffee species assessed have not been seen in the wild for more than 100 years, and it is possible that some may already be extinct.”

Their findings highlight not only the growing risk of deforestation and climate change to biodiversity, but perhaps more importantly the growing risk these are having on communities whose livelihoods depend on coffee production. Ethiopia, for example, is Africa’s largest coffee exporter, with an annual export value of around 1 billion dollars, and 15 million of its population are engaged in coffee production. If wild Arabica coffee were to become extinct, it could devastate the country’s economy.

Image credit: Tyler Nix via Unsplash

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