WCR’s award-winning breeding trial

The global coffee industry’s peak research body, World Coffee Research (WCR) has been awarded for its groundbreaking work evaluating the performance of coffee varieties grown in different environments around the world. The Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Sustainability Award celebrates innovative projects to expand and promote sustainability within the coffee world. In 2016, the award was given to WCR for its International Multilocation Variety Trial . The trial is a first-of-its kind undertaking to facilitate the global exchange of the world’s highest quality coffee varieties and evaluate their performance, WCR’s Director of Communications, Hanna Neuschwander, tells Global Coffee Report. “Coffee farmers typically have few choices about which coffee varieties are available for them to plant,” Neuschwander says. “Their choices are often limited by forces beyond their control – low levels of national investment in coffee research, the lack of a professional coffee seed sector, and a tradition among countries of not sharing genetic material.” These constraints mean producers often rely on planting material susceptible to disease or does not perform optimally in their environment and of which the agronomic traits are not known or available. Until now, no comprehensive effort had been made to gather improved coffee varieties from around the globe and make them available to producers in different countries. Neuschwander says the key benefits of the project are manifold: coffee farmers around the world will benefit from genetic progress through access to new varieties with better productivity, disease resistance, and/or beverage quality, while researchers will identify key traits that have allowed different varieties to adapt to different environmental conditions, which will lay the groundwork for major advances in coffee breeding, climate adaptation strategies, and future research. The trial will serve as a platform to monitor coffee disease epidemics and strengthen local coffee institutions and organisations within participating countries while transferring knowledge and technology to farmers. “In 2012, WCR built the necessary foundation of trust for countries to be part of this ambitious project,” Neuschwander says. “In all, 19 countries are part of the project and more are expected. Eleven countries, one regional network [Promecafé] and one private alliance [Ecom-Cirad] are providing 35 top varieties. Where possible, WCR prioritises partnering with the national coffee institutes to build capacity and strengthen those institutions.” All participating countries hosting trial sites have agreed to install, maintain, and monitor the plots (on average one to three per country). On each plot, a comprehensive list of variables is measured using standardised protocols developed by WCR – including plant vigour, productivity, coffee leaf rust and other disease and pest incidence, bean characteristics, bean chemistry, and cup quality. “The best-adapted varieties can then be made available to producers to increase supplies of quality coffee for those countries,” Neuschwander says. “If, for example, Kenya found that a Honduran variety performed exceptionally well in trial sites, it may find an agreement with Honduras to eventually commercialise the variety in Kenya. While there are isolated examples of this kind of exchange taking place historically, there has never been a global framework for it.” The trial follows a careful protocol to ensure that plant material being moved around the globe is disease-free. Beginning in 2014, seeds from the 35 varieties were shipped from donor countries to a tissue culture lab in Florida, so that disease-free in vitro plantlets could be safely sent to participating countries. By the end of 2015, more than 50,000 plants had been shipped to 16 of the 19 participating countries and six countries had established the first field plots. GCR

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