Wake up and smell the coffee…

A major sector of the food industry is at risk. Wild populations of Arabica coffee trees have been devastated by deforestation and climate change, leaving domesticated stock at risk of disease and disasters. Arabica coffee trees are native to Ethiopia and Sudan.

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Of the 124 species of coffee listed by botanists, Arabica accounts for two thirds of the coffee traded around the world. For centuries, wild Arabica coffee stock has been shipped around the world and grown on in plantations all around the tropics. The now-domesticated trees are concentrated on plantations where plant diseases can take hold and spread like wildfire. Without access to wild plant material, there will be no way of restoring traits or resistance lost during domestication.

Growing up to eight metres tall, Arabica coffee trees grow on high ground in the lower layers of rain forests, taking advantage of the moderate temperature ranges and sheltered locations. Rising temperatures have added to the pressure on any wild trees that have not been cut down.

The other mainstream coffee variety is Robusta, which is grown in east Africa. It is odd that out of the dozens of coffee species known to botanists, only two varieties have been developed commercially. There is more information about coffee on the Kew Garden website.

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