Two billion cups of coffee are drunk around the world every day and 25 million families rely on growing coffee for a living. Over the past 15 years, consumption of the drink has risen by 43 percent – but researchers are warning that the world’s most popular coffee, Arabica, is under threat.
Although there are 124 known species of coffee, most of the coffee that’s grown comes from just two – Arabica and Robusta.
In 2012, research by a team from the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, revealed a bleak picture for wild coffee in Ethiopia, where Arabica originated.
“If we don’t do anything now and over the next 20 years, by end of the century, wild Arabica in Ethiopia could be extinct – that’s in the worst-case scenario,” says Dr Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Kew, who led the project.
Commercial coffee, grown in plantations, is thought to have no more than 10% of the genetic variety of wild Arabica. Put simply, it is in-bred.
Lack of diversity in crops can have disastrous consequences – it makes them more susceptible to disease.
This is why Dr. Timothy Schilling, executive director of the World Coffee Research institute (WCR) is embarking on an ambitious plan – “to recreate Arabica, but with better breeding.”
Schilling points out that this is not genetic engineering, but old-fashioned breeding, using modern techniques – and that it could take decades.
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