The sustainability of arabica coffee is threatened by three compounding influences: climate change, eco-decay, and low genetic diversity. We already see the effects of climate change in Ethiopia, which has recently become climate-compatible for pests such as la broca that were never previously found in this region (A Davis, 2013). In our interview in Lesson 2.03, Hanna Neuschwander of World Coffee Research (WCR) told us that a hard upper limit for daily temperature averages of 32° C for coffee production — a level already reached in Zambia.
Both coffee and cocoa farming practices are considered highly suitable for agroforestry. However both industries, up until now, have experienced drastic eco-decay in many regions. The combined eco-decay affecting coffee and cocoa production in recent decades amounts to 30 million ha of deforestation around the world. This is the equivalent to a land area approximately the size of Vietnam. This deforestation leads directly to a significant increase in global carbon emissions. This is because the destruction of vegetation through wood chipping and burning almost immediately releases the carbon that was sequestered (captured) in the plants.
Another element that compounds the troubles for arabica is that it is one of the least genetically diverse agricultural crops in the world (World Coffee Research). The subject of genotype and plant breeding in coffee will be the subject of a future course at Barista Hustle, so we will not venture too deeply into this topic here. But if you are unaware of the limited scope of arabica cultivars outside of Ethiopia, we will let coffee’s leading taxonomist Dr Aaron Davis bring you up to speed with his important address at the 2013 Nordic Roasters Forum. Dr Davis is responsible for the discovery of several coffee species that were unknown to science until this decade.
Here, he discusses the compounding influences affecting coffee’s survival and how plant breeding programs are likely to rely more on the germplasm of other coffee species in the future. Traits such as drought resistance can be bred into improved hybrids of arabica that are hardy and taste good too.