Coffee Clickbait Goes Bananas

Banana and coffee for breakfast
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New research on coffee and climate change indicates an urgent situation for crops at origin

Behind the headlines on the future of coffee, according to science – and how you can get involved.

By William (Bill) Murray, NCA CEO & President
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Complete with the typical clickbait-style headline, a recent article intoned that the global population is imminently doomed to a world without coffee – and “not much” can be done about this “on a personal level.”

Sounds grim.

But it could be easy to miss the glimmer of hope buried in the last line:

This future could look bleak for morning coffee drinkers, but with the help of farmers and scientists, our cup of joe can be protected.”

Of course, there’s no taking issue with the underlying research (conducted by Aaron Davis, et al) that triggered this report.  It’s true that many of the native coffee species in the wild are threatened due to deforestation and climate change.

Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee) and Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee), the most commercially cultivated coffee crops, share a lot of the same genetic genome.  The less diverse a species is genetically, the more susceptible it can be to disease.  (Learn more about how bananas are even more vulnerable.)

While the coffee situation is urgent, the article failed to capture the amount of energy, commitment, and resources that are being directed by the coffee community towards sustainability and research.

The first example? More than 100 companies that have joined the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, under the auspices of Conservation International, committing to help make coffee the world’s first 100% sustainable commodity. These commitments span a wide range of areas – from gender equity to water access and conservation – but include “technical assistance” and “renovation” (replanting or pruning trees to enhance productivity), which includes agronomy assistance.

When it comes to gathering, protecting, understanding, exploring, and researching coffee genetics, there are a number of scientists and organizations working specifically on this issue, supported by coffee companies and others.

Scientists, like  Dr. Christophe Montagnon and Dr. Timothy Schilling from World Coffee Research, have visited field gene banks  in Madagascar, Kenya, Ethiopia, Panama, Colombia, and other places  to collect samples and identify unique genetic traits in wild and cultivated coffee species. Conferring these genetic traits to domestically cultivated coffee species and varietals, such as Arabica and Robusta, could potentially convey greater disease resistance, drought tolerance, or improve quality or yield.

In fact, World Coffee Research is wholly dedicated to this very topic, and the Colombian Coffee Federation – known to Americans for their Juan Valdez campaigns – conducts similar kinds of research through Cenicafé, one of the world’s leading centers for scientific coffee research.

So, what can be done at a personal level?

Empower yourself with the facts – not soundbites.

  1. While politicians are arguing over whether or not they “believe in” climate change, you can get informed by learning from credible organizations that offer facts and data.
  2. You can also learn more about the brands you love, how they are getting involved, and the impact they are having.

As you read beyond the headlines you’ll learn that there are companies, organizations, and dedicated individuals working hard to ensure a future for coffee.  They know that coffee’s future isn’t just about  your cup of morning coffee:  the livelihoods of coffee farmers all around the world are depending upon coffee’s future. (The NCA Coffee Gives Back and Coffee Sustainability Showcases highlight just a few organizations doing good work.)

By taking a few minutes to fully understand the issue – beyond the clickbait or an Instagram caption – and supporting those companies, organizations, and individuals working hard for the future of coffee, you can make a difference. In fact, you can even join (at an individual level) organizations like World Coffee Research, and make a contribution.

Why should you get involved? Because when you are holding your morning cup of coffee, you are also holding coffee’s future.

Read the original study:

High extinction risk for wild coffee species and implications for coffee sector sustainability

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