The various threats to the future of the coffee industry have garnered a lot of press in the last few years. Some reports of how climate change, intensive farming and monocultures threaten global supply, estimate that the amount of suitable farmland worldwide could be halved by 2050, wild coffee extinct by 2080, and a country like Mexico becoming unviable for growing coffee as soon as 2020. These are not threats and challenges exclusive to coffee, agriculture as a whole will have to invest heavily into research on how we manage, protect and adapt to climate change in order to feed ourselves and save the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farming families.
But compared to other industries such as sugar, bananas or corn, coffee research is severely underfunded. Most individual producing nations do spend money on developing varieties that are higher yielding and more resilient to pests, diseases and extreme weather, but it has been a challenge to create a structured, unified global approach to coffee research that benefits the future of the industry as a whole.
World Coffee Research is an organisation that seeks to remedy that. Their mission is to grow, protect, and enhance supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the families who produce it. A global, scientific research organisation, they create projects that are designed to enhance the livelihoods of the producers who are the stewards of both quality and productivity. By creating a toolbox of coffee varieties, genetic resources and accompanying technologies, disseminating them strategically and collaboratively in producing countries, they want to alleviate the constraints to the supply chain of high-quality coffee.
WCR partners with local research institutions, coffee organisations, governments, and NGOs who can ensure maximum impact. They believe it is essential to build the human and institutional capacity in producing countries, and are working to foster the next generation of coffee scientists and expand the network of coffee research institutions in those countries through collaborative research and training.
One of the many projects they are working on is the International Multilocation Variety Trial, which aims to locate the best-quality coffee varieties from around the globe and make them available to producers in different countries. By planting 35 test varieties on more than 60 plots in 23 different countries, they can monitor plant vigour, productivity, coffee leaf rust and other disease and pest incidence, bean characteristics, bean chemistry, and final cup quality. Each country can learn how the different varieties perform under local conditions. The best-performing varieties can then be selected, multiplied and distributed to producers to increase supplies of quality coffee for those countries.
Another project looks at the other end of the coffee chain – the cup result. Evaluating flavour volatiles in coffee and correlating them to chemical compounds in the coffee seed, allows them to create a database of aroma precursors. Understanding the molecular basis of coffee quality will allow coffee researchers, breeders, and agronomists to adjust agricultural practices and post-harvest techniques to maximize quality, and will allow breeders to create coffee varieties of the highest class.
In order to fund all this research and support all the projects, WCR relies on donations from the industry, companies and individuals who understand the urgency and the value of this work in order to secure coffees future. I, as our coffee buyer, see first-hand the need for more investment in research, when I visit producers who battle with the effects of climate change and new diseases every year.
Square Mile is very proud to support WCR, both by cash donations and by being part of their Checkoff Program, donating 1 cent per kg of coffee that we buy through participating partners. I’m also part of the WCR UK Team, supporting the expansion and outreach of the program to new partners worldwide.
The money we raise goes to developing the WCR tools needed to give farmers better information about existing coffee varieties so they can plant the coffee varieties that are best suited to their farm, such as the first-ever catalogue of coffee varieties for Central America.
It also supports their long-term program to breed the next generation of coffee varieties that are climate resilient, disease and pest resistant, high producing, and—for the first time in the history of coffee breeding—truly high quality. Improved coffee varieties can increase a farmer’s saleable crop by up to 50%, and it can help ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy a cup of coffee too.
We’re very happy to support WCR in their work to make the industry more sustainable for coffee farmers and for coffee drinkers alike, and we’d encourage all other individuals, cafes, roasters, importers and exporters to get involved as well.