World’s coffee under threat, say experts! (And The BBC Believes Them)
By Paul Homewood Stock up on Maxwell House!! The first full assessment of risks to the world’s coffee plants shows that 60% of 124 known species are on the edge of extinction. More than 100 types of coffee tree grow naturally in forests, including two used for the coffee we drink. Scientists say the figure is “worrying”, as wild coffee is critical for sustaining the global coffee crop. About one in five of the world’s plants is threatened with extinction, and the 60% figure is an “extremely high” one. “If it wasn’t for wild species we wouldn’t have as much coffee to drink in the world today,” said Dr Aaron Davis of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “Because if you look at the history of coffee cultivation, we have used wild species to make the coffee crop sustainable.” Research published in the journal, Science Advances, found conservation measures were “inadequate” for wild coffees, including those considered “critical” for long-term global coffee production. The study found that 75 wild coffee species are considered threatened with extinction, 35 are not threatened and too little is known about the remaining 14 to make any judgement. Furthermore, it was found that 28% of wild coffee species grow outside protected areas and only about half are preserved in seed banks. A second study, in Global Change Biology, found that wild Arabica coffee can be classed as threatened under official (IUCN Red List) rankings, when climate change projections are taken into account. Its natural population is likely to shrink by up to 50% or more by 2088 because of climate change alone, according to the research. Wild Arabica is used to supply seeds for coffee farming and also as a harvested crop in its own right. Ethiopia is the home of Arabica coffee, where it grows naturally in upland rainforests. “Given the importance of Arabica coffee to Ethiopia, and to the world, we need to do our utmost to understand the risks facing its survival in the wild,” said Dr Tadesse Woldemariam Gole, of the Environment and Coffee Forest Forum in Addis Ababa. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46845461 It always seems strange when we get told these scare stories, that the facts give a totally different narrative. Coffee production has been going up in leaps and bounds since 1980, despite the assortment of phantom demons supposedly already at work: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#compare.. Nobody knows what the future might bring, but I strongly suspect the biggest threat to coffee production will be deforestation. As usual with these sort of scare studies, they never take account of adaptation in the future. If a slightly warmer climate, or bugs, or coffee genes happen to be a problem eighty years down the road, then surely it is not beyond the wit of mankind to find solutions? Expanding growing areas, fertilisers, pest control, genetic engineering? I sometimes wonder what our civilisation would be like now, if the doom mongers had been in control two hundred years ago. Don’t do this! Don’t do that! We’re all going to die! How much of the technological advances we now take for granted would have been still born? There is another big risk to coffee production, as the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) explain: http://www.ico.org/documents/cy2014-15/icc-114-5-r1e-overview-coffee-sector-africa.pdf A bit PCish, but the reality is that coffee farming in Africa is a low income activity, due to its inherent low productivity. Where improvements, such as new strains and fertiliser, could be made, they cost money, which the farmers don’t have. A vicious circle. This has a knock effect: Whether anyone will be prepared to take on such a low income job in years to come remains to be seen. I don’t believe fancy talk about fair trade will make the slightest difference to this. Ethiopia As for Ethiopia itself, which is the focus of the BBC report, things are slightly different: The country is actually doing pretty well. The claim that coffee production in Ethiopia is threatened by climate change is largely based on projections of lower rainfall. As usual with these simplistic studies, they merely assume that recent trends will carry on. However, data from the World Bank shows a much different picture: http://sdwebx.worldbank.org/climateportal/index.cfm?page=downscaled_data_download&menu=historical There was a period of relatively high rainfall during the 1960s and 70s, but that was the exception. In recent years, rainfall has stayed very close to the long term mean. There have also been other decades in the 20thC when rainfall was much less than now, for instance the 1940s and 50s. There is certainly no evidence that rainfall will decrease during this century. I think we can confidently expect to be still drinking our lattes for a long while yet, even though it might cost us a lot more!
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