Monday, June 26, 2017

Warming Brews Big Trouble in Coffee Birthplace Ethiopia

Coffee cherries, hand-picked in Africa. (Credit: rogiro/flickr)) Click to Enlarge.
Global warming is likely to wipe out half of the coffee growing area in Ethiopia, the birthplace of the bean, according to a groundbreaking new study.  Rising temperatures have already damaged some special areas of origin, with these losses being likened to France losing one of its great wine regions.

Ethiopia’s highlands also host a unique treasure trove of wild coffee varieties, meaning new flavor profiles and growing traits could be lost before having been discovered.  However, the new research also reveals that if a massive program of moving plantations up hillsides to cooler altitudes were feasible, coffee production could actually increase.

Coffee vies with tea as the world’s favorite beverage and employs 100 million people worldwide in farming the beans alone.  But climate change is coffee’s greatest long-term threat, killing plantations or reducing bean quality and allowing the deadly coffee leaf rust fungus to thrive.  Without major action both in the coffee industry and in slashing greenhouse gas emissions, coffee is predicted to become more expensive and worse-tasting.

The research combined climate-change computer modeling with detailed measurements of current ground conditions, gathered in fieldwork that covered a total distance of 30,000km within Ethiopia.  It found that 40-60 percent of today’s coffee growing areas in Ethiopia would be unsuitable by the end of the century under a range of likely warming scenarios.

But the study, published in the journal Nature Plants, also shows that major relocation programs could preserve or even expand the country’s coffee-growing areas.  “There is a pathway to resilience, even under climate change,” said Aaron Davis, at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the UK, who conducted the work with Ethiopian scientists.  “But it is a hugely daunting task.  Millions of farmers would have to change.”

However, by 2040, such moves uphill will have reached the top of Ethiopia’s mountains.  “It literally reaches the ceiling, because you don’t have any higher place to go,” Davis said.
Both arabica and robusta coffee originated in Ethiopia and wild arabica plants are virtually unknown outside the country.  The wild arabica varieties may well harbor traits for disease and drought resistance that could prove vital for the future health of coffee crops.

Read more at Warming Brews Big Trouble in Coffee Birthplace Ethiopia

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