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Living libraries to ensure food security

Illustration image | Malcolm Manners / www.flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

One of the first things to do in the morning is to have a cup of coffee. On average, the Swiss drink more than three cups a day. With more than seven million tonnes per harvest season, the coffee bean is one of the world's most important commodities. Not only passionate coffee drinkers should therefore be concerned about the scientists’ report at the beginning of the year stating that 60 percent of wild coffee plants are threatened with extinction. The study is alarming because important traits are lost, with which the plants react to changes in the environment or which could one day become important in breeding, if genetic diversity shrinks.

Why it matters. There are more than 50,000 edible plants worldwide. However, climate change, habitat loss, invasive species and diseases are increasingly affecting them. A large genetic diversity is advantageous for coping with changing conditions. However, many of our crops are genetically impoverished due to years of breeding for high and uniform yields and other properties valued in agriculture. This makes it more difficult for plants to adapt to new environmental conditions and narrows the scope for growers.

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