60% of wild coffee species are threatened with extinction

Concern over future of coffee as research finds 60 per cent of wild species are endangered

Arabica coffee fruits, SW Ethiopia. © Aaron Davis/RBG Kew

The first ever IUCN Red List assessment has been conducted on all 124 wild coffee species, and the implications of these findings predict a concerning future for global coffee production.

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The newly published research reveals that 60 per cent of all wild coffee species are under threat of extinction due to deforestation, climate change and the increased spread of pests and disease.

This includes wild relatives of Coffea arabica, the world’s most widely traded coffee, which are designated as an Endangered species on the Red List, largely due to climate change projections.

Flowers of Arabica coffee. © Aaron Davis/RBG Kew
Flowers of Arabica coffee. © Aaron Davis/RBG Kew

“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,” says Eimear Nic Lughadha, senior research leader in Kew’s Conservation Department and lead scientist for Kew’s Plant Assessment Unit.

“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. 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. We hope this new data will highlight species to be prioritised for the sustainability of the coffee production sector so that appropriate action can be taken to safeguard their future.”

Undertaken by scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, these new figures come after two decades of dedicated research. Using computer modelling they were able to predict how a changing climate would affect the species in Ethiopia, showing the number of locations arabica grows could decrease by 85 per cent by 2080.

Coffee is a multi-billion-dollar industry, so with 60 per cent of all coffee species being threatened with extinction, it creates an extremely concerning outcome.

Beans of Ambongo coffee (left) and Arabica coffee (right). © RBC Kew
Beans of Ambongo coffee (left) and Arabica coffee (right). © RBC Kew

“Among the coffee species threatened with extinction are those that have potential to be used to breed and develop the coffees of the future, including those resistant to disease and capable of withstanding worsening climatic conditions,” says lead author Dr Aaron Davis.

“We hope our findings will be used to influence the work of scientists, policy makers and coffee sector stakeholders to secure the future of coffee production.”

Wing-fruited coffee in western Madagascar. © Aaron Davis/RBG, Kew
Wing-fruited coffee in western Madagascar. © Aaron Davis/RBG, Kew

The aim of the research is not to present bleak prospects for this species, but instead it is to develop an understanding of risk, so that appropriate planning measures and interventions can be put into place to protect the future of coffee for everyone.

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Read the full papers in Science Advances and Global Change Biology.