Sunday, 11 November 2012

Caffeine makes good words better


I was wondering if I should post anything on Kew's depressing news about the future of wild coffee. After all, O veste mai puţin bună pentru băutorii de cafea says it all. So do all these headlines, just a sample of what appeared in press this week*.

Coffee threatened by climate change. The Daily Telegraph
How caffeine could become a has-bean: Wild coffee plants may be wiped out by climate change ‘within 70 years’ Dailymail.co.uk
Climate Change Seen Eradicating Wild Arabica Coffee by Kew. Bloomberg Business Week
Wilder Arabica-Kaffee droht komplett auszusterbenMorgen Post
Koffein macht gute Wörter besser**.Science ORF
Arabica coffee could be extinct before end of 21st century. India4u
Coffee threatened by climate change. The New India Express
O veste mai puţin bună pentru băutorii de cafea. Income Magazine
Arabica Coffee Could Be Extinct in the Wild Within 70 YearsEIN News
Coffee 'threatened by climate change'. Today Online
Is the end nigh for coffee? News.co.au
Arabica coffee could be extinct in the wild within 70 years. Australian Science
Le café arabica à l'état sauvage menacé de disparition d'ici à 2080. Romandie
Study: Arabica Coffee Could Go Extinct in the Wild. Voice of America
Arabica Coffee Could Be Extinct In the Wild Within 70 Years-Study. Lloyds


In case you don't get it, one of the wild species of coffee, Coffea arabica, may be extinct in its natural habiat of Ethiopia by 2080. Climate change, forest destruction and invasive pests are all conspiring to wide out this adorable plant and about 70% of the coffee we drink is Arabica.

And does it matter if we lose this wild species given coffee plants are cultivated all over the globe? Well yes. The stuff in the plantations is all very similar. It comes from limited genetic stock and is therefore not particularly well endowed to cope with these kind of threats. Wild Arabica is where we need to go to source new strains to breed tolerance to pests, ability to grow in new climates and otherwise tougher more adaptable plants.

On top of all this, in Ethiopia where most of the coffee in Africa is produced, climate change will reduce yields from commercial crops anyway. I broke part of this story in my blog in September last year, but for the full, original and latest story, see PlosOne.


The scientists from Kew and Ethiopia modelled various scenarios to come up with these worrisome conclusions, including the big one that Arabica is a climate-sensitive species. The same studies also help us deal with the problem, alongside halting accelerated climate change. Specific areas are identified where wild populations need particular conservation attention to retain vital genetic diversity. Backing up these efforts,  representative populations will need to be sampled and stored in seed banks and ex situ living collections (such as in botanic gardens).

Lest you think this is only important to me, Melbourne and Italy***, coffee is the second most traded commodity after oil and absolutely critical to the economies of several countries.


*Thanks for Royal Botanic Gardens Kews' Press Office for the selection of media articles. 
**The title of my post is the translation of this headline into English using Google translate. To be fair, this is a compilation of stories, the first of which is about caffeine improving our perception of (certain) words. 
***The pictures of coffee shops are all from my last trip to Melbourne, where, as I'm fond of saying, you can find the second best coffee on the planet, after Italy. And the coolest, understated coffee joints.

No comments: