‘Future proofing’: Rediscovered wild coffee species could protect against production drops caused by climate change

The coffee species Coffea stenophylla, bears black fruit  
Credit: E. Couturon/IRD/Handout/Reuters
The coffee species Coffea stenophylla, bears black fruit Credit: E. Couturon/IRD/Handout/Reuters

In dense tropical forests in Sierra Leone, scientists have rediscovered a coffee species not seen in the wild in decades.

[T]he species, called Coffea stenophylla, possesses greater tolerance for higher temperatures than the Arabica coffee that makes up 56% of global production and the robusta coffee that makes up 43%. The stenophylla coffee, [the researchers] added, was demonstrated to have a superior flavor, similar to Arabica.

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Many farmers throughout the world’s coffee-growing belt already are experiencing climate change’s negative effects, an acute concern for the multibillion dollar industry.

The stenophylla rediscovery, [botanist Aaron] Davis said, may help in the “future-proofing” of a coffee industry that supports the economy of several tropical countries and provides livelihoods for more than 100 million farmers. While 124 coffee species are known, Arabica and robusta comprise 99% of consumption.

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“The idea is that stenophylla could be used, with minimum domestication, as a high-value coffee for farmers in warmer climates,” said Davis.

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Stenophylla had not been seen in the wild in Sierra Leone since 1954 and anywhere since the 1980s in Ivory Coast, Davis said. A few examples were held in coffee research collections.

Davis said stenophylla is threatened with extinction amid large-scale deforestation in the three countries where it has been known to grow in the wild: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

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