Climate-resilient coffee species rediscovered in Sierra Leone

sierra leone coffee

Coffee developers in Sierra Leone have offered hope for climate-resilient solutions as rising temperatures and changes in rainfall threaten to wipe out more than half of the world’s coffee production.

Significant progress has been achieved in a Sierra Leonean project to recultivate a historic local species better adapted to higher temperatures.

Stenophylla coffee, also known by its scientific name Coffea stenophylla, has been grown successfully in a pilot project east of Sierra Leone following a five-year-long rediscovery in the wild. The local species had been lost from cultivation for more than 50 years.

The recent progress made in nurseries and plantations close to where the trees were rediscovered is projected to be worth US$113 billion annually by 2030.

Switzerland-based coffee trader Sucafina funded the project, which aims to establish stenophylla as the flagship product of Sierra Leone’s agricultural sector.

Daniel Sarmu, the forestry expert who discovered the lost plant and is running the project, says its rediscovery is an opportunity to put Sierra Leone on the world coffee map.

“The results are so positive that we believe everything is in place to potentially rejuvenate Stenophylla, a coffee that was once drunk in Paris and London but has to been sold commercially for decades,” says Sarmu.

More than 1400 seedlings have been planted so far as part of this project, as the Sierra Leone community have made available an additional 50 acres (about 20 hectares) of land to allow for more growth.

Sarmu and his two British collaborators, Aaron Davis from The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Jeremy Haggar from the University of Greenwich, say more research is still needed on the unique characteristics of Stenophylla.

This includes analysis of the climate, terrain, soils and topography that favour its growth and, importantly, its yield in terms of amount of berries and the time taken for the plant to grow from seed to productivity.

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