In the Press: Wild Arabica species, The genetic key to a sustainable coffee industry

The following is an excerpt from an article featured in the July 2012 issues of Global Coffee Review. Follow the link at the bottom of the excerpt to read the full article on GCR’s website and find out how WCR Members can receive a special subscription offer to the magazine.

“A World Coffee Research expedition to South Sudan turned into a rescue mission for wild Arabica, with evidence that climate change may see these forests disappear in our lifetime.

A.S. Thomas’s 1942 entry into the Empire Journal of Experimental Agriculture is a reminder of times gone by.

In an account of his exploration of the Boma Plateau, Sudan, to search for wild Arabica (Coffea arabica), Thomas refers to neighbouring “Abyssinia”, the historical name that included Ethiopia, as well as the then colonial “Anglo-Egyptian Sudan”.

Sadly, dated political references are not the only sign of the article’s age. Written at a time before climate change had taken its toll on the planet, Thomas wrote of Arabica trees 5.5 metres  high and trunks over 17 centimetres in circumference. A recent visit to the region by a World Coffee Research (WCR) delegation, the first since Thomas’s 1941 visit, found that the healthy wild Arabica plants the researcher had encountered were also now a thing of the past.

“It’s a bleak situation at the centre of origin,” says Timothy Schilling, Executive Director for WCR, who led the South Sudan expedition in April this year. The goal of the expedition was to follow in Thomas’s footsteps, locate the wild Arabica and later collect germplasm – a collection of genetic resources for an organism – for further research and plant development.

South Sudan, and neighbouring Ethiopia, is the epicentre of wild Arabica, Schilling explains, and the collection of this wild species from the former locality is extremely rare. This most recent trip was hosted by staff members from the USAID-funded project JGMUST: A Consortium for Development, based at the John Garang Memorial University for Science and Technology in Bor, South Sudan, led by the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture of the Texas A&M University System.

Doctor Aaron Davis, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom, joined Schilling on the trip, for what was not his first expedition to find a wild coffee species. Since 1997, Davis has travelled the world and discovered more than 20 wild coffee species, encountering everything from winged coffee that floats on water to the world’s largest coffee beans.”

Read the rest of this article on the Global Coffee Review website>>

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