Lab-grown coffee and how to grow it sustainably

A worker separates coffee berries during the harvest at a farm in Guaxupe, located in the southwestern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

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Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world – but a surge in demand is threatening the environment, prompting activists and scientists to look for sustainable ways to produce coffee. get high.

“Most coffee goes through a wet grinding process that uses a significant amount of fresh water to de-ground and wash the coffee. The coffee is then dried, roasted, transported and brewed – each using energy. quality,” said Bambi Semroc, Senior Vice President. Chair of the Center for Sustainable Land and Water at Conservation International.

Over the past 30 years, the growing demand for coffee has resulted in a 60% increase in production, according to International Coffee Organization.

From deforestation to heavy use of water and energy resources, research shows that increased coffee production is destroying the planet.

Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer, has seen deforestation Amazon rainforest hits 15-year high, according to a report published by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

An estimated 13,235 square kilometers – the equivalent of 2,429 football fields – were lost between August 2020 and July 2021, representing 22% increase over the previous year.

Coffee production also leaves behind a large amount of water and energy, with 140 liters of water needed to produce just 125 mm of coffee, according to Water Footprint Network.

But at the same time, the coffee industry is also vulnerable to climate change.

Just this year, Brazil experienced frosts and droughts in June, causing arabica coffee prices to hit a seven-year high.

Commodity experts predict that prices will continue to rise “given the current uncertainty in the global market as well as uncertainties surrounding next year’s output by the dominant coffee producers – Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia”, Semroc, from the Center for Sustainable Lands and Waters at Conservation International.

Lab grown coffee, anyone?

Scientists in Finland are trying to find a sustainable, lab-grown alternative to the next cup of coffee – but the technology to produce it is still very expensive.

The Finland’s VTT Technical Research Center successfully produced coffee cells in a bioreactor through cellular agriculture, in an effort to make coffee production more environmentally friendly.

Coffee grown in the research center’s lab eliminates the need for deforestation, and the process is much lower in water as scientists can use recycled water to create bioreactors. their.

Coffee is a luxury product and people want to be able to buy it with good conscience.

Heiko Richer

Finland’s VTT Technical Research Center

Another advantage is that coffee can be produced at any time under controlled temperature, light and oxygen conditions, eliminating supply uncertainty in the industry.

“We are not a coffee producer but want to collaborate and work with parties with the expertise and vision to bring something like this,” said Heiko Rischer, head of plant biotechnology at the research institute. this to the market.

“It also requires significant investment because the whole approval process … not only takes time, but of course it’s also a costly exercise,” he added.

The innovation also eliminates the lengthy transport of coffee from the country of origin to the country of consumption, and “has an impact on the traceability and transparency of the process … this is often also is a big problem in the coffee supply chain,” said Riser.

Cell culture coffee (right) and roasted coffee produced by VTT’s cellular agriculture method.

Finland’s VTT Technical Research Center

“We don’t work with coffee beans as a starting material, but instead with lyophilized powder that we produce in the lab,” he told CNBC.

Once the powder is roasted, it can be brewed in the same way as a regular cup of coffee.

Although Heiko forecasts it could take a minimum of four years before VTT’s lab-grown coffee receives regulatory approval, there is already strong interest around the product in Finland, the country largest coffee consumer in the world.

“We’ve seen a lot of resistance to GM foods before, so we’re surprised that people show interest in buying and enjoying the product… Coffee is a luxury product and people want to be able to afford it with good conscience,” said Heiko.

Lack of investment

Programs such as those of the World Coffee Research and Conservation Organization also aim to help meet the growing global demand for coffee by increasing the output of smallholder farmers and improving their inputs. invest in existing farms.

“Coffee research is a distant priority when you have more pressing humanitarian priorities… Many low-income countries are responsible for supplying the world with coffee but are unable to invest in ways that are productive. could allow their farmers to reduce their risk”. Jennifer Long, CEO of World Coffee Research said.

Investing in agricultural development, with a dedication to agricultural research and technology, are the single most important investments you can make.

Jennifer Long

Managing Director, World Coffee Research

More than 100 world leaders at Cop26, the United Nations’ global climate summit, pledged in November to collectively end deforestation by 2030. They are also looking to redesign agricultural policies to encourage sustainable farming.

However, experts warn, a lack of investment in agricultural research and development could lead to more volatile prices ahead.

Coffee production accounts for a large share of the export revenue of many developing countries – without investment in research and innovation, “the consequences of volatility in the coffee market can be very clear to farmers,” she added.

Of the 12.5 million smallholder coffee farmers, at least 5.5 million live below the international poverty line of $3.20 a day, Enveritas, a non-profit organization that helps small-scale coffee farmers find sustainable solutions.

“Investing in agricultural development, with a focus on agricultural research and technology, are the single most important investments you can make,” said Mr. Long, adding that Agriculture-specific challenges often leave small-scale farmers vulnerable.

Investing in agriculture is important to ensure food security goals can be achieved despite the global challenges that are holding back production, Long said.

“Trees are a great place to start because they absorb and hold a lot of carbon,” she added, implying that the agricultural production system needs to be modified to integrate more trees through agroforestry. fit. Lab-grown coffee and how to grow it sustainably

Emma James

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