A team of Ugandan, Dutch and French scientists could have identified a population of climate resistant wild Robusta coffee.
Robusta coffee is an important crop sustaining millions of livelihoods but it is unfortunately threatened by the frequent drought spells reported to be increasing in relation to climate change.
The study raises hopes for developing drought resistant cultivars. But these populations occur in forests that are currently under threat of deforestation.
In a PhD research paper conducted by Catherine Kiwuka, many unknown wild coffee Robusta genotypes from Ugandan forests were collected and genetically studied for their drought tolerance.
The results showed a number of special coffee populations with climate-resistant properties. Unfortunately, many of these were found in forests at risk from de-forestation.
The study shows, while the wild populations in the North Western part of the country are genetically unique, those in the South of the country are already genetically mixed with cultivated material.
This highlights the importance of conserving and harnessing extant 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 commodity whose production sustains tens of millions of mostly small-holder farmers across the tropics who are some of the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
Coffee is also the main source of foreign income for Uganda. Climate change through increased occurrence of droughts, heat waves and diseases is expected, by some estimates, to cause 50% reduction in coffee production globally.
Exploring genetic resources extant in wild coffee populations for climate and disease resilience is one way we can tackle the issue.
While Robusta coffee is generally of lower quality than Arabica, it is also more climate resilient and the Ugandan Robusta is renowned for its Arabica-like cup quality.