Sierra Leone to start exporting its unique brand of coffee soon – says botanists

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 April 2021:

In dense tropical forests in Sierra Leone, scientists have rediscovered a coffee species not seen in the wild in decades – a plant they say may help secure the future of this valuable commodity that has been imperilled by climate change.

The researchers said on Monday that the species, called Coffea stenophylla, possesses greater tolerance for higher temperatures than the Arabica coffee that makes up 56% of global production and the robusta coffee that makes up 43%.

The stenophylla coffee, they added, was demonstrated to have a superior flavor, similar to Arabica.

Botanist Aaron Davis, who led the study published in the journal Nature Plants, said stenophylla was farmed in parts of West Africa and exported to Europe until the early 20th century before being abandoned as a crop after robusta’s introduction.

Many farmers throughout the world’s coffee-growing belt already are experiencing climate change’s negative effects, an acute concern for the multibillion-dollar industry.

Arabica’s flavor is rated as superior and brings higher prices than robusta, which is mainly used for instant coffee and coffee blends. But Arabica has limited resilience to climate change and research has shown its global production could fall by at least 50% by mid-century.

Stenophylla grows at a mean annual temperature of 24.9 degrees Celsius (76.8 degrees Fahrenheit) – 1.9 degrees C (3.42 degrees F) higher than robusta coffee and up to 6.8°C (12.24 degrees F) higher than Arabica coffee, the researchers said.

The stenophylla rediscovery, Davis said, may help in the “future-proofing” of a coffee industry that supports the economy of several tropical countries and provides livelihoods for more than 100 million farmers. While 124 coffee species are known, Arabica and robusta comprise 99% of consumption.

“The idea is that stenophylla could be used, with minimum domestication, as a high-value coffee for farmers in warmer climates,” said Davis, head of coffee research at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“For the longer term, stenophylla provides us with an important resource for breeding a new generation of climate-resilient coffee crop plants, given that it possesses a great flavor and heat tolerance. If the historic reports of resistance to coffee leaf rust and drought tolerance are found to be correct, this would represent further useful assets for coffee plant breeding,” Davis added.

Leaf rust is a fungal disease that has devastated coffee crops in Central and South America.

The study included flavor assessments involving 18 coffee-tasting experts. Stenophylla was found to have a complex flavor profile, with natural sweetness, medium-high acidity, fruitiness and good “body” – the way it feels in the mouth.

In December 2018, Davis and study co-authors Jeremy Haggar of the University of Greenwich and coffee development specialist Daniel Sarmu searched for stenophylla in the wild. They initially spotted a single plant in central Sierra Leone.

About 140 km (87 miles) away in southeastern Sierra Leone, they found a healthy wild stenophylla population.

“Both locations were thick tropical forest, but stenophylla tends to occur on drier, more open areas: ridges, slopes and rocky areas,” Davis said.

Stenophylla had not been seen in the wild in Sierra Leone since 1954 and anywhere since the 1980s in Ivory Coast, Davis said. A few examples were held in coffee research collections.

Davis said stenophylla is threatened with extinction amid large-scale deforestation in the three countries where it has been known to grow in the wild: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

Unlike the red and occasionally yellow fruit of Arabica and robusta plants, stenophylla’s fruit are intense black. The coffee beans are inside the fruit.

“I think we’re hugely optimistic for the future that stenophylla can bring,” said Jeremy Torz, co-founder of the specialty coffee business Union Hand-Roasted Coffee in East London where part of the taste-testing was held.

Source Credit: Reuters

3 Comments

  1. I believe the coffee farming idea is not so bad for a handful of small farmers. But please stay realistic. Export? In the 90s we had the idea in the Gambia for women collectives to produce fresh vegetables to supply the Gambian tourist hotels instead of importing from Europe. Coffee produced in Sierra Leone could be sold to hotels, restaurants and rich people in the country.

  2. This native Highland coffee that was last collected in the 1950s, and rediscovered recently as of 2019, by coffee Kew Garden specialists Dr Aaron P Davies and NRI’S Professor Jeremy Haggard, in the Kasewe Hills in South – central Sierra leone,remains the last best hope for coffee farming that can withstand the effect of climate change . According professor Davis, “the taste of this Sierra leone Highland coffee is said to be better than Arabica and it can grow in much hotter and drier conditions, Which makes it more resilient to climate change and draught. It’s a high-value, niche market coffee which could provide improved livelihood incomes for farmers.” But will it?

    Given the rampant unchecked corruption we are subjected to in our country. Sierra leone is blessed with abundance natural and human resources. This coffee plant grows in the wild. Some African countries has no such luck. What is lacking in Sierra leone, is good political leadership. The UK government is taking a hard line approach against corruption. As the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, told MPs in the UK parliament :”Corruption has an immensely corrosive effect on the rule of law, on trust in institutions, it slows development, it drains the wealth of poorer nations, it keeps their people trapped in poverty.

    It poisons the well of democracy around the world. “He might as well be describing Sierra Leone under Bio’s iron gripped. With all this natural resources, our country is still shackled in the depths of poverty .Families up and down the country, can’t afford to feed themselves. It is a disgrace to see politicians flashing their stolen loot in big expensive cars in pothole filled roads , while children go to bed hungry. We call on the British government to impose sanctions, and asset freeze against president Bio and his cronies.

  3. Hahahaha…Here we go again;My people are at it again – building castles in the sky. Who in there right thinking minds is going to believe that our fragile dysfunctional crumbling nation is going to be exporting its own unique brand of Stenophylla coffee very soon. Geez! Its time for us to wake the hell up and smell the coffee! My goodness! Here comes another daunting responsibility intricately wrapped up in a myriad of problems and challenges to be shouldered by dummies with potbellies who still don’t know how to tie their shoelaces properly. How exactly is that going to be possible in a lackadaisical atmosphere in Sierra Leone?

    The process of coffee production from the dusty farmlands to the shiny glass breakfast tables in the West is no task for the timid and weak. It is an arduous task that begins by drenching someone with sweat – planting the Coffee seeds in the right soil and atmosphere in large shaded beds so that the young seedlings can sprout quite easily is a high priority. At this stage the farmer becomes a vigilant watchman, by day and at night, in rain and sunshine unable to blink or take his eyes off the plant, watering them frequently and shading them from the scorching sun. And then comes to the tedious task of harvesting that is usually done by hand so that only the ripe fruits are picked after a period of at least 3 years. Who is it among the throngs of incompetent SLPP public officials that is going to oversee and adequately supervise such an exacting endeavor and ensure that it becomes a success?

    Next comes Processing: Oh mercy mercy me!There are two viable options – the Dry method also know as the Natural method in which fresh cherries are spread in the Sun and the Wet method that uses water to wash and extract the beans. Can shoe shine boys be able to measure up to such backbreaking responsibilities – I think not! And it doesn’t end there – grinding, roasting, tasting and packaging are additional responsibilities jammed packed also into the whole demanding process. Please Gentlemen – I beg of you, Stick with the trivial things; Boys playing with toys do not have the expertise to handle such a highly demanding human intensive process. (lol)

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