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Saving coffee: Scientists search for plants to solve production deficit

/ 06:56 PM April 30, 2017
coffee beans, coffee, farmer

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The coffee industry has tapped scientists to find plants more adaptable to a changing climate after an alarming four-year deficit in coffee production, according to a Bloomberg report.

The report cites that the World Coffee Research Institute is scouring countries for plant varieties and doing experiments to see which plants can survive colder climates and a costly fungal disease.

Christophe Montagnon, a geneticist and lead researcher of the project, says that the effect of a warmer planet due to climate change is that only regions with colder climates “will remain arable.”

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While the demand for coffee has boomed to an “all-time high,” current production levels are unable to keep up due to “deforestation, abnormally high temperatures, a lack of precipitation, and disease,” with some factors possibly linked to climate change.

A fungal disease called leaf rust has also been a major problem in the coffee industry. The institute reports $2.5 billion or 18.2 million bags of coffee, along with 1.7 million jobs lost from 2011 to 2016 due to the disease.

From 30 plant varieties across 20 countries, seven plant varieties so far have survived a cold, controlled environment. These remaining plants will be placed in uncontrolled conditions in other coffee-growing countries.The plants that can withstand the cold temperatures and leaf rust will then be used for planting.

It is hoped that tough coffee plants are found soon: The institute warns that by 2050, only half of the land available for arabica beans will be left. In Espirito Santo, Brazil, a three-year drought has plagued the region, forcing robusta bean farmers to transfer regions or grow other crops. Brazil has also been driven to import robusta beans from Vietnam despite their lower quality, a move made to address demands but comes at the opposition of farmers.

The Philippine Coffee Board Inc. cites that the Philippine market for coffee is high, with a demand of 100,000 tons per year. However, in a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, the country only produced 27,000 tons last 2014, while the local Department of Agriculture listed “erratic climate conditions” and the urbanization of farm land among the threats to production.

The Philippines is one of the few countries that can produce four main coffee bean varieties, namely robusta, arabica, excelsa and liberica (or barako). Niña V. Guno/JB

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