Growers are working to make our coffee habit more sustainable

This next story may be difficult for coffee enthusiasts, of which there are many. According to some estimates, we consume more than a billion cups of coffee each day on a global scale. However – and this is the difficult part – the way we are currently supporting that habit is not sustainable.

SHAW, CHARLIE: It is critical for people to comprehend the extent of devastation that can result from unbridled pursuit.

MARTIN: That is Charlie Shaw, Atomo Coffee’s director of innovation. He asserts that if we continue to produce coffee using current methods…

SHAW: It is estimated that approximately two Costa Ricas’ worth of land currently covered in wild forest will need to be cleared over the next 30 years.

MARTIN: One reason for this is that only two coffee species, arabica and robusta, account for 95% of our coffee consumption. This has a detrimental effect on biodiversity and results in farming that is detrimental to the environment. And 60% of all coffee species, including arabica, are threatened with extinction. However, here is the better news. Alternatives are being explored by scientists.

AARON DAVIS: We require additional coffee species and coffee crops to fill in the gaps.

MARTIN: I’m referring to Aaron Davis. He has spent more than two decades at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew conducting research on coffee. He asserts that one solution may be found among the 128 species of wild coffee. Among them is stenophylla. Until the 1920s, the plant was cultivated in Sierra Leone, but arabica and robusta took over the global market. As a result, stenophylla virtually vanished for decades. Davis and his colleagues travelled to Sierra Leone in 2018 in search of this elusive plant.

DAVIS: And what we did was create a wanted poster. Have you seen this plant?

MARTIN: No one had done so.

DAVIS: And at that point, we concluded, that was the end. It is now extinct.

MARTIN: However, they persisted, hiking deep into an eastern forest, and six miles later…

DAVIS: Once we reached the proper elevation, we discovered a very nice, healthy population.

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