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Kew research reveals 60 per cent of coffee species in danger of extinction

Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the United Kingdom, have revealed that 60 per cent of all wild coffee species are under threat of extinction in two papers published in Science Advances and Global Change Biology on 16 December.

This includes the wild relative of Coffea arabica, the world’s most widely traded coffee, which has entered The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as an endangered species, largely due to climate change projections.

Other contributing factors include deforestation, and the spread and increasing severity of fungal pathogens and pests.

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“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. 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 plant for plants,” says Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha, Senior Research Leader in Kew’s Conservation Department.

“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.”

The new figures come after two decades of research undertaken by Kew to discover, analyse and document the world’s coffee species, and assess their extinction risk. Much of this work was undertaken first-hand in the locations where wild coffee grows, the remote forests of Africa and on the island of Madagascar.

Researchers say the multi-billion-dollar coffee sector is founded on and sustained through the use of wild coffee species, and that included among the 60 per cent are those that could be key to the future of coffee production.

“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. The use and development of wild coffee resources could be key to the long-term sustainability of the coffee sector. Targeted action is urgently required in specific tropical countries, particularly in Africa, to protect the future of coffee,” says Dr Aaron Davis, Head of Coffee Research at Kew and lead author of the Science Advances paper.

“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 — not only for coffee lovers around the world, but also as a source of income for farming communities in some of the most impoverished places in the world.”

The paper ‘High extinction risk for wild coffee species and implications for coffee sector sustainability’ in Science Advances can be viewed here.

The paper ‘Least concern to endangered: Applying climate change projections profoundly influences the extinction risk assessment for wild Arabica coffee’ in Global Change Biology can be viewed here.

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