A more climate-resistant coffee growing in Africa

2023-04-30 22:00:56
A more climate-resistant coffee growing in Africa

Farmers in one of Africa’s biggest coffee exporting countries are growing a whole other variety that better withstands the heat, drought and disease supersized by global warming.

For years, they’ve just been mixing it into bags of low-priced robusta. This year, they’re trying to sell it to the world under its own true name: Liberica excelsa.

“Even if there’s too much heat, it does fine,” said Golooba John, a coffee farmer near the town of Zirobwe in central Uganda.

For the past several years, as his robusta trees have succumbed to pests and disease, he has replaced them with Liberica trees. On his six acres John now has just 50 robustas, and 1,000 Libericas.

Arabica is sold in most coffee shops, including large global chains. The bean needs high altitudes and cold temperatures to grow, unlike its less popular cousin Robusta, a hardier plant with higher caffeine levels. Robusta, which tastes more bitter than Arabica, can grow in lower elevations in much higher temperatures.

Catherine Kiwuka, a coffee specialist at the National Agricultural Research Organization, called Liberica excelsa “a neglected coffee species.” She is part of an experiment to introduce it to the world.

If it works, it could hold important lessons for smallholder coffee farmers elsewhere, demonstrating the importance of wild coffee varieties in a warming world. Liberica excelsa is native to tropical Central Africa. It was cultivated for a little while in the late 19th century before petering out. Then came the ravages of climate change. Growers resurrected Liberica once more.

Africa has the most coffee-producing countries of any continent. Ethiopia is Africa’s leading exporter, bagging around $1.2bn worth of coffee exports per year, while Uganda is the second largest with around $594.2m, according to data from Statista.

With Cop27, the UN climate change conference, being held in Egypt in November, African leaders will need to work to secure financial and political commitments if they wish to safeguard the continent’s coffee trade.


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