Endangered coffee

by JulieCraves on January 9, 2007

I previously discussed the important species and varieties of coffee. An understanding of these varieties can be of great help to consumers looking for sustainable coffee, as different types are typically grown under shade or sun conditions.  The species and varieties of coffee familiar to consumers, however, are just a tiny part of the coffee family tree.

Rather astonishingly, no comprehensive monograph on the taxonomic status of coffee has been published since the 1940s.  That was recently remedied by a lengthy paper published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.* It details 103 species in the genus Coffea: 41 species in Africa, 59 in Madagascar, and three in the Mascarene Islands; no naturally-occurring Coffea species are found outside of these three areas, and no species is shared between the three areas.

While most of the paper is of interest only to botanists, one aspect is quite striking.  Over 70% of coffee species can be categorized as threatened using World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List definitions:

  • 14 species (13.6%) are Critically Endangered,
  • 35 species (33.9%) are Endangered, and
  • 23 species (24.2%) are Vulnerable.
  • An additional 13 species (13.7%) are Near Threatened.

The majority of the most threatened species are from Madagascar, an island with a high level of endemism and deforestation. The authors note there is virtually no in situ preservation of coffee genetic resources, and there are difficulties in conserving coffee genes ex situ because of its general lack of suitability for placement in seed banks (see also my post on The value of wild coffee). Habitat loss is the single most important threat to rare coffee species. The photo shows dramatic erosion on deforested areas in western Madagascar, courtesy of Rhett Butler’s excellent Wild Madagascar web site, where you can read more about this country’s environmental issues.

*Davis, A. P., Govaerts, R., Bridson, D. M., and Stoffelen, P.  2006. An annotated taxonomic conspectus of the genus Coffea (Rubiaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 152:465-512.

Revised on November 14, 2019

Posted in Birds and other biodiversity,Research on coffee growing

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