By Debra Chase
Wild Arabica, the very first seed smuggled out of Arabia by Baba Budan during his pilgrimage to Mecca around 1600, traveled on to Paris and Martinique. The descendants of this seedling of coffee may just have a final resting place 810 miles from the North Pole, on the Norwegian Island of Spitsbergen. Banked into a great wall of ice is the Svarbard Global Seed Vault, also known as the Doomsday Vault. The vault houses over one third of the world’s food crop in seeds. And countries all over the world are regularly adding to it, saving the seeds and their unique diversity. It is noted on The Crop Trusts website that “the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur, animal or any form of life.” That is why they built the seed vault.
A newly-added member of the endangered food list, the coffee plant is being threatened from all sides. From droughts and deforestation in most major coffee producing regions to the “rust” fungus in South America, it doesn’t stand much of a chance. The coffee plant, like all plants, is very weather dependent, if it gets too much water, fungus grows, too little it dries out and dies. Coffee also requires a five-year growth cycle before producing just one pound of beans.
In 2012, researchers at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew together with scientists in Ethiopia, predicted that the end is near for wild Arabica coffee — Coffea Arabica. The researchers found, worst case, near extinction by 2080. That’s in just 65 years. Our children’s children may not have coffee at all. And this is a conservative estimate, according to the researchers, because it doesn’t take into account full deforestation. This is important to note because wild Arabica is thought to account for over 98% of coffee’s gene pool. The other main variety of coffee, the Robusta bean, lacks the genetic diversity of the wild Arabica and is more susceptible to disease.
The effects of climate change are changing how we farm, and how we eat. The planet heats up, causing long-term droughts, sporadic heavy rainfall, resilient pests, damaging frosts and extended freezing winters. All of this together places a heavy burden on agriculture throughout the world. In Brazil, the country that produces 30% of the world’s coffee, is currently in a drought not seen in 80 years. According to the Global Drought Information System , “In Africa, drought remains entrenched near the eastern horn, particularly around Kenya and southern Somalia.” Ethiopia is Somalia’s nearest neighbor and, is fifth on the list of top coffee producing countries. As the planet warms coffee production will have to move to climates cooler than current growing climates, production will slow dramatically and prices will rise.
On any day in just about any city someone is drinking, sipping, slurping and even eating it. It has more names than a con artist: macchiato, cappuccino, mocha, cortado, latte, java, cup of Joe and more. And like a good con artist it can make you feel on top of your game. You steam it, boil it, drip it through filters, push it through a French press and dip it in chocolate. Coffee is one food that almost the whole world will miss. Here in America over 54 percent of us over the age of 18 drink coffee every day, usually at breakfast, and over two thirds of us drink it with cream and/or sweetener. That’s a pretty large economic burden.
“Good to the Last Drop,” the Maxwell House slogan nearly 100 years old, may well be singing in an ironic end to the world’s most favorite drink.
“One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go
To the valley below”
Bob Dylan, One More Cup of Coffee