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In dense tropical forests in Sierra Leone, scientists have rediscovered a coffee species not seen in the wild in decades — a plant they say may help secure the future of a valuable commodity that has been imperiled by climate change.
The researchers said that the species, called Coffea stenophylla, possesses greater tolerance for higher temperatures than Arabica coffee, which makes up 56% of global production, or robusta coffee, which makes up 43%. The stenophylla coffee, they added, was demonstrated to have a superior flavor, similar to Arabica.
Botanist Aaron Davis, who led the study published April 19 in the journal Nature Plants, said stenophylla was farmed in parts of West Africa and exported to Europe until the early 20th century before being abandoned as a crop after robusta’s introduction.
Many farmers throughout the world’s coffee-growing belt already are experiencing climate change’s negative effects — an acute concern for the multibillion-dollar industry.
Arabica’s flavor is rated as superior and brings higher prices than robusta, which is mainly used for instant coffee and coffee blends. But Arabica has limited resilience to climate change and research has shown its global production could fall by at least 50% by mid-century.
Stenophylla grows at a mean annual temperature of 24.9 degrees Celsius — 1.9 degrees higher than robusta coffee and up to 6.8 C higher than Arabica coffee, the researchers said.
The stenophylla rediscovery, Davis said, may help in the “future-proofing” of the coffee industry, which supports the economies of several tropical countries and provides livelihoods for more than 100 million farmers. While 124 coffee species are known, Arabica and robusta comprise 99% of consumption. “The idea is that stenophylla could be used, with minimum domestication, as a high-value coffee for farmers in warmer climates,” said Davis, head of coffee research at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (Reuters)
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This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.