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Conserving wild Arabica coffee: Emerging threats and opportunities

Aerts, Raf, Geeraert, Lore, Berecha, Gezahegn, Hundera, Kitessa, Muys, Bart, De Kort, Hanne, Honnay, Olivier
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2017 v.237 pp. 75-79
Coffea arabica, agricultural land, agroforestry, biodiversity, climate change, crop yield, cultivars, gene pool, genetic stability, genetic variation, landscapes, montane forests, pests, zoning, Ethiopia
Climate change and emerging pests and diseases are posing important challenges to global crop productivity, including that of Arabica coffee. The genetic basis of commercially used Arabica coffee cultivars is extremely narrow, and it is uncertain how much genetic diversity is present in ex situ collections. Conserving the wild Arabica coffee gene pool and its evolutionary potential present in the montane forests of SW Ethiopia is thus critically important for maintaining coffee yield and yield stability worldwide. Globally, coffee agroforestry helps to conserve forest cover and forest biodiversity that cannot persist in open agricultural landscapes, but the conservation of the wild Arabica coffee gene pool requires other priorities than those that are usually set for conserving forest biodiversity in mixed tropical landscapes. We show how forest loss and degradation, coffee management, in particular production intensification, and the introduction of cultivars, are threatening the genetic integrity of these wild populations. We propose an active land sparing approach based on strict land use zoning to conserve the genetic resources and the in situ evolutionary potential of Arabica coffee and discuss the major challenges including the development of access and benefit sharing mechanisms for ensuring long-term support to conservation.