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Issue Date: Vol. 52, No. 12, December 2012, Posted On: 11/14/2012

Researchers: Climate Change Could Make Arabica Coffee Extinct By 2080

Emily Jed
TAGS: coffee growing trends, Arabica coffee, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Ethiopia's Environment and Coffee, Arabica coffee extinction, temperature change, global warming, Boma Plateau, south Sudan, Ethiopia, arabica demise, unhealthy arabica crops, deforestation, Arabica-suitable highland forests, arabica beans, climate change and coffee

LONDON -- Arabica coffee, which accounts for more than 70% of the world's coffee could fall victim to climate change and be extinct by 2080, according to a new study.

Researchers at England's Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and Ethiopia's Environment and Coffee Forest Forum used computer modeling to predict how rising global temperatures and subtle changes in seasonal conditions might make some land unsuitable for arabica plants, which are vulnerable to temperature change.

The best-case scenario predicts that 65% of locations where arabica coffee is currently grown will become unsuitable by 2080, the study found. The most extreme model puts the loss at between 90% and 100%.

In the Boma Plateau in south Sudan, among other areas, the demise could come as early as 2020, based on the low flowering rate and poor health of current crops.

"Arabica can only exist in a very specific pace with a very specific number of other variables," said Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Royal Botanic Gardens. "It is mainly temperature but also the relationship between temperature and seasonality -- the average temperature during the wet season for example."

The study's authors said the dire predictions are conservative because they do not take into account the large-scale deforestation of the arabica-suitable highland forests of Ethiopia and south Sudan. Pests, disease and other factors were also not considered.

The researchers said certain "core sites" capable of yielding arabica until at least 2080 should be set aside for conservation. Among them is the Yayu Coffee Forest in Ethiopia.

Growers of domesticated coffee could still produce crops by watering and artificially cooling them, but wild coffee has much greater genetic diversity that is essential to help plantations overcome threats like pests and disease, according to the researchers.

The study's authors said identifying new locations where arabica could be grown away from its natural habitat in the mountains of Ethiopia and south Sudan could be the only way of preventing the demise of the species.

Even if the beans do not disappear completely from the wild, climate change is highly likely to impact on yields and the taste of coffee beans in future decades, they added.

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