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    Coffee: A Developing World Problem People Really Care About
    By Hank Campbell | February 17th 2013 09:54 AM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    You can bet that if I don't have my Double Black Diamond Extra Bold tomorrow morning, I am writing me a letter to Congress. Guatemalans take their coffee just as seriously and have already gone to Def-Con 1 over coffee rust, which is affecting 70% of the country's crop.

    Roya is a fungus that grows on the leaves of the coffee plant and that starves the beans. It's caused by too much rain, which is a recurring problem and always has been but coffee is big business now.  In 1982, the world used 2.6 billion pounds of coffee beans but in 2011, that number was 17.6 billion pounds, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.  Meanwhile, a growing human population and heavy rains there have caused Colombian output to drop 36% in the last seven years.

    Larger countries have embraced science and replaced legacy plants with fungus-resistant seedlings but the new plants will take about three years to replace the plants that are not producing now - devastating for a country reliant on it as a current cash crop. But weather remains hard to predict.

    One way or another, it will work out. Some hysterical types are worried that because the industry has focused on one particular genetically modified strain, global warming might mean less coffee - that kind of stuff is why you shouldn't read Union of Concerned Scientists when it comes to science. Instead of leaving us with less coffee, science will come up with a better variety for whatever conditions exist.  The arabica so popular now isn't from South America at all, it was an import. Its genetic ancestry is from Indonesia and Yemen. They were both just planted there because they were best suited to the climate that already existed. New climate, new coffee.


    While doing some scare journalism about coffee is likely good for policy in the very short term, it is bad in the long and run and it is not what journalists should be doing if they want the public to trust journalists.  Then again, science journalism mostly gave up long ago.  You won't need to horde coffee regardless of what you hear and read. Image: Shutterstock.

    Both Nestlé SA and Starbucks are doing research to expand plant genetics right now - that means the days of coffee are not over no matter what happens to local weather.  Science can save us from running out of coffee just like it once saved us from running out of wild game and not enough berries to forage.

    In the short term, it probably does mean those people addicted to coffee enemas are going to pay a lot more.

    Read all about the health benefits of coffee here at Science 2.0 and about a researcher who consults all over the world in The Indiana Jones of Coffee by Miguel Bustillo and Solomon Moore at the Wall Street Journal

    Comments

    Vertical farms. Coffee needs a certain altitude, as I understand it. And we know there are over watering problems. Just build vertical farms at altitude and local to folks. You control the chemicals used, the weather is always perfect and . . . I just don't understand why we don't have vertical farms already.

    Hank
    People want to buy coffee for 4 bucks a pound.  Geo-engineering costs money and, if it's going to cost money, there is no reason to be in South America.
    JohnK.
    I have long said that coffee is the only valid evidence that god exists.  I am glad to know that coffee isn't in danger from any of this.  I am pretty sure that I account for a billion of those additional pounds of coffee per year.  :-)
    That aside, from an evolutionary point of view the coffee plant is winning because of human cultivation.  Much like corn, coffee has spread around the Earth and now grows in abundance far beyond what it could naturally every achieve.  Sounds like there is more mass of coffee plant on Earth than humans.  Looks like an evolutionary win to me.

    Other than price, coffee has succeeded more than most plants ever will.
    Hank
    I knew coffee was a lot more popular now - Starbucks is a miracle of useless capitalism but more power to them - yet I had no idea the numbers were so big. That the demand is 5X but prices are reasonable is amazing.
    Nice coffee porn graphics for this article.

    Hank
    Wasn't intentional, I just went to shutterstock and put in coffee beans and picked the first one that looked funny.  This is intentional, though:
    Dear Science 2.0,
    Thank you for Hank Campell's interesting Feb. 17th article, Coffee; A Developing World Problem People Really Care About. It has significant information to impart. Unfortunately, Mr. Campbell is incorrect when he writes that Arabica coffee is indigenous of Ethiopia and Yemen. Coffea Arabica L. is indigenous of Ethiopia alone.
    Sincerely,

    Donald Schoenholt

    Hank
    Let me clarify what may be a clunky sentence:
    The arabica so popular now isn't from South America at all, it was an import. Its genetic ancestry is from Indonesia and Yemen.
    I am talking about arabica grown worldwide, saying it is not native to S. America, though casual drinkers assume that must be its origin. I didn't say Ethopia and Yemen at all, and I didn't say indigenous, I said its genetic ancestry is Indonesia and Yemen rather than South America.  Yemen is where coffee was invented and Indonesia is where much of the S. American plants came from (and those Indonesian ones came from Yemen). Genes don't lie!

    It's telling that Indonesia switched to C. arabica after many of its plantations were lost to coffee rust also. 300 years later nature is at it again.

    My overall point was that 80% of coffee is arabica because it was easiest for the areas they had and genetic optimization has honed in on improving that. It doesn't mean a changing climate would kill coffee, it just means a new climate might be better served by a different plant.
    Dear Mr. Campbell.
    Thank you for your quick response.
    Ethiopia is the mother of all Arabica coffees, as all the Arabica coffees of the world trace their gene heritage back to Ethiopia. You are correct, I miss-keyed. I meant to say that coffea arabica is indiginous to Ethiopia alone and not to Indonesia and Yemen. When the hand of man moved coffee from Ethiopia to Yemen to India to Java and then to other regions of the world it was the children of Ethiopia Arabica that was moving. It is true that you never used the word "indigenous". I used it as I thought that is what you meant to say.

    Your response sounds as you thought I was playing "gotcha" with you, when I was respectful, and but for the slip of Yemen for Indonesia, correct in my statements. I am sorry that my honest and well meaning correction disturbs your rest. You are welcome to the last word as I will not trouble you again. I promise.

    Sincerely,

    Donald Schoenholt

    Gerhard Adam
    You are quite correct [as I'm sure you already know].  As Hank said, "genes don't lie" and the genetic history places the origins in the south eastern evergreen mountainous region of Ethiopa.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    But, again, it is not what I said. I said the genetic ancestry of the plants in South America is Indonesian and Yemen - there is no plant in South America that is the same as the plants in Ethiopia. Using a term like 'origin' incorrectly is like saying you are from Africa and are the same as people there from hundreds of years ago.
    Gerhard Adam
    Are you suggesting that C. arabica doesn't grow in Ethiopia? 

    Since Ethiopia is one of the top exporters of coffee in the world, I don't understand what you're suggesting if you're indicating that the coffee produced there isn't from the same plants as used in S. America. 
    Mundus vult decipi