09 July 2019

Climate change threatens your morning coffee: This is how researchers want to save it

This article is redirected and translated by SCIENCE from Videnskab.dk 'Forskerzonen'.

Climate change threatens the most popular coffee crop. Danish researchers participate in pairing it with genes from a more robust species to ensure coffee drinkers still can get their morning fix.

By: Aske Skovmand Bosselmann, Assistant Professor at the Department of Food and Resource Economics & Anders Ræbild, Associate Professor at the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management

A coffee farmer in Costa Rica looks at his new hybrid-coffee plants, which encompass characteristics from two different coffee sorts to achieve a more robust coffee plant without compromising with the taste. (Picture: Daniel Ortiz Gonzalo)

Maybe you have heard that coffee is threatened by climate change? And thought about how your start of the day will be without coffee? Are we about to drink CIKORIE-UDTRÆK as one did during the Second World War?

The coffee bush is a delicate plant and therefore they are definitely relevant questions. Luckily, researchers worldwide work to develop coffee making it more robust while maintaining the good taste.

Climate change puts a pressure on coffee’s ’habitats’

Arabica-coffee, the world’s probably most popular and tastefull coffee species originates from the highlands of Ethiopia but is today still grown many places worldwide. To develop correctly and produce good, tasteful beans it is necessary that the coffee has moisture, coolness and not too much sun.

If the temperatures are getting too high, the flowers will be destroyed and the beans will develop too quickly in order to develop the taste-giving agents. Therefore, the coffee is especially grown in the mountains where the conditions are constant, cool and allow for an ideal development.

Climate forecasts unfortunately show that areas for coffee growing will be reduced, in the future – when the temperatures rise the coffee has to be moved further up the mountains and there will automatically be less space.

It is not only worrying for us who enjoy coffee but also for the thousands of farmers getting a large amount of their earnings through coffee farming. An important goal for coffee refiners is therefore to develop new varieties of the coffee sort Arabica, which can cope in spite of the more challenging climate conditions expected in the future.

Through the EU-project ‘BREEDCAFS’, we contribute in meeting this challenge.

Genetic improvement is to make the coffee more robust
An improvement of the coffee follows several tracks. First, the genetic variation of the coffee grown many places in the world is rather small.

When coffee was taken from Ethiopia to be grown in the rest of the world, genes were lost. These kinds of losses are common when basing new populations on small amounts of seeds as colonialists did when they took the seeds from Ethiopia to sow them in Asia, the rest of Africa and later in Latin America (…)

Read the full version of the article at ‘Forskerzonen’, where the article was published on June 28 (Danish only)

 (…) Our research is part of the great Horizon-2020 EU-projekt BREEDCAFS, which is short for 'Breeding Coffee for AgroForestry System'. Read more about the project here.

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