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Climate-resilient wild coffee populations with great flavor potential discovered in Uganda

Climate-resilient wild coffee populations with great flavor potential discovered in Uganda

01 January 2021


A team of Ugandan, Dutch and French scientists has discovered populations of potentially drought-resistant, high-quality wild coffees in Uganda.

The discovered wild robusta populations are of comparable quality to arabica and offer hope for the development of new drought-resistant coffees, but they are at the same time seriously threatened by deforestation. 

In her doctoral research, Catherine Kiwuka - with whom she is currently obtaining her PhD at Wageningen University - collected a large number of hitherto unknown genotypes of wild coffee robusta from Ugandan forests, genetically examined them and selected them for drought tolerance.

This led to the discovery of special coffee populations with climate-resistant properties. Robusta itself is of lesser quality than arabica, but is more climate-resistant. The Ugandan robusta in particular is of very high quality, comparable to arabica. This can be attributed to the fact that Arabica comes from a natural cross between Robusta and another coffee variety.

Critically endangered forests

The newly found robusta populations are found in forests that are generally highly endangered. For example, the most valuable material is found in the Zoka forest in Northern Uganda, a forest of which only 10 km2 is left at the moment.

Moreover, the research shows that while the wild populations in the northwest of the country are genetically unique, those in the south of the country are already genetically mixed with cultivated material.

Protecting, preserving and utilizing genetic resources

The study therefore highlights the importance of protecting, conserving and exploiting existing genetic resources in wild coffee populations and points to the need to conserve and further investigate the material in Uganda. Coffee is an important global product and its production provides an income for tens of millions, mostly small farmers in the tropics. These farmers are often vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change. Coffee is also Uganda's main source of foreign income. Estimates suggest that an increase in drought, heatwaves and disease is expected to cause a 50% reduction in coffee production worldwide.

Exploring genetic resources in wild coffee populations for resilience to drought, heat and disease is one means of addressing this problem. Although Robusta is generally of lower quality than arabica, this species is also more climate resistant and the Ugandan Robusta is known for its arabica-like quality.

Valuable coffee can help protect biodiversity and vice versa

Uganda has an incredibly rich biodiversity which is seriously threatened by deforestation. For example, important chimpanzee populations live in a number of the researched and threatened forests. I hope Catherine's research will help increase the understanding that valuable coffee is of vital importance to small farmers and can contribute to the protection of valuable biodiversity and vice versa, 'said her supervisor Professor Niels Anten.


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