Coffee alert

Followers of this blog will know how much a good cup of coffee matters to the MicroGnome. Regulars will know how to ask for their preferred cup in several languages. Australian coffee taxonomy is typically descriptive, direct and Anglo-Saxon; as you would expect from a nation with a high consumption: production index. Some will be surprised to know that Australia produces coffee. Not a lot, to be sure, but about as much as you’d expect from an island with relatively little suitable coffee-growing territory. However, that may have to change if we’re to keep up with our daily coffee needs.

  • Coffee alert 1: scientists are beginning to warn that a series of coffee pests are already reducing output of the majority Arabica bean. Coffee borer and a fungal infection called coffee rust have reduced yields so much that well-known brands have had to put up their prices. The coffee berry borer, Hypothenemus hampei, is native to Africa. It is a small beetle recognised as the world’s most harmful coffee pest.  Interestingly, there is some evidence that commensal Wolbachia bacteria may help determine the sex of coffee borer beetles: proof that bacteriology is far from boring.
  • Coffee alert 2: climate change monitors warn that even small changes in local temperature will significantly increase the reach of these threats to the global coffee crop, making coffee a sensitive indicator of global warming. We might whinge about the increasing price of a cappuccino, but spare a thought for the producers. Coffee is grown around the world in the tropical zone, where warmth, persistent moist air and good rainfall combine to support a viable crop. Coffee is therefore an important cash crop for many poorer parts of the world, and a loss of production translates directly to a loss of income for already disadvantaged communities.
  • Coffee alert 3: If you take a look at the coffee growing map of the world, you can see considerable overlap with a range of tropical infectious diseases. Diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, leishmaniasis, dengue and leprosy feature in many of the coffee growing areas. Neglected tropical diseases such as onchocerciasis, filariasis, other arbovirus infections, rickettsial diseases and nutritional disorders are also part of the epidemiological coffee-growing map. Then there are the food and water-borne diseases of these places: acute gastrointestinal infections, enteric fever, cholera and dysentery, giardiasis, amoebiasis, strongyloidiasis and other helminth infections.

Maybe we ought to look more closely at the links between growing coffee and tropical diseases. At very least, we ought to ask how the coffee industry could improve health benefits of the coffee producers. Something to consider the next time you enjoy your favourite wake-up drink.

MicroGnome, 2-JAN-12.


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