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Feature - issue #3

The Bitter Reality

Words by Aaron Davis
Photography by Emily Garthwaite

Research shows that 60% of the world’s 124 wild coffee species are at risk of extinction. Protecting those coffee species, and other wild relatives of our food crops is vital for long-term sustainability.

A smallholder coffee farmer picking wild coffee in Yayu Forest, A UNESCO protected biosphere in Ethiopia.

More than two billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day, and consumption is increasing. The global success of coffee supports a large and diverse sector, involving complex relationships with multiple stakeholders, from farmer to consumer. Coffee farming alone employs 100 million people across the world’s tropical, coffee-growing belt. When all other elements of the coffee value chain are included, such as processing, exportation, roasting, and retail, it becomes clear that coffee is a serious business.

It is probably fair to say that few coffee consumers are aware of the complicated value chains required to deliver the plant-based products we consume, let alone the places where they are produced or the plants that provide them. As we progress through the global climate crisis, the bio-diversity crisis, and understand the threats posed to our own survival, we will need to become more aware of how we interact with local and global communities and their environments. Coffee serves as a good example to illustrate some of these points and in particular the importance of biodiversity and why it should be conserved.

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