Endangered espresso

| Fri Jun. 23, 2000 3:00 AM EDT

Coffee is grown around the world, from Kenya to Costa Rica, and is the world's second-most valuable commodity after oil -- but it may be in danger of extinction.

According to NEW SCIENTIST, the crops on those far-flung plantations nearly all derive from a handful of varieties of the arabica bean. Because there's so little genetic variablity among the cultivated plants, they're highly vulnerable to disease; coffee rust, for instance, devastated the Brazilian crop in the 1970s.

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Until now, growers have always been able to get new stock from southwest Ethiopia, the genetic home of the arabica, where there are hundreds of varieties and arabica bushes make up much of the forest undergrowth. In the past 30 years, though, those forests have been cleared for lumber, plantations, and settlement by Ethiopians displaced by drought in other parts of the country. As a result, the forests have been drastically reduced, leaving their future, and that of your morning caffeine jolt, in jeopardy.

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