Andreana Bitsis

Why We Need to Protect Wild Coffee Forests, Now More Than Ever

Coffee is a ubiquitous commodity around the world– most Westerners rely on a cup to get themselves up and moving, whether it’s an almond milk latte or just a regular cup of joe. But what most don’t realize is why coffee’s taxonomy (that often boring topic in biology) is so important.

Coffee arabica is the genetic origin of Arabica (one of the most common types of coffee), which grows in its wild variety in the forests of Ethiopia. The wild type acts as a kind of insurance against the danger bananas and corn currently face, by allowing for genetic diversity and natural evolution; when a single variety dominates, the entire coffee crop runs the risk of being completely obliterated by virulent disease. But keeping those wild, heirloom plants alive isn’t just as simple as letting them be.

Dan Kristiansen

As Genevieve Belmaker writes for Mongabay:

[M]aintaining the forests where wild coffee grows can be very tricky. Deforestation in the area is driven by a number of direct actions such as expansion of crop cultivation by local people and private investors, as well as a number of underlying drivers linked to social, economic, political and cultural factors (such as population growth for example).

Understanding these factors and how they work together is key to protecting the forest and its wild coffee resources. 

The Ethiopian government has supported a policy called Participatory Forest Management (PFM) as part of an effort to protect the country’s forest resources. PFM sees local people as part of the solution, giving management responsibilities for the forests and their commodities, including coffee, to communities that live close to the forest and have long had traditional rights to it.

To read more about how advocates are working to protect wild coffee forests, check out Mongabay’s Series on Global Forests.

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