The principal reason for the lack of a seed industry in coffee is because producing new varieties has been difficult and challenging from logistic, social and economic standpoints. However, with the advent of new in-vitro technologies, hybrid breeding techniques can now be used in coffee to produce high yielding, high quality hybrid varieties. This is highly advantageous for coffee productivity and quality improvement. Hybrid coffee varieties express ‘hybrid vigor’ for the traits that they are selected for so that when high yield and high quality are selected for, both yield and quality can be increased more than by using conventional variety techniques. In addition, the hybrid breeding can produce a variety for commercial use 10 years sooner than using conventional breeding techniques. The major constraint with this new technology has been the high cost of multiplying the hybrids plantlets to levels needed for commercial production and economic success. That, however, is changing. Already, in vitro techniques are becoming economically feasible on a commercial basis in some countries. As such, WCR will support the scaling-up of tissue culture producing techniques in target Arabica producing countries and research to reduce the time and cost of producing commercial volumes of hybrid plantlets from tissue culture.
On one hand, WCR will fund research to simplify the downstream stages of the process from embryo production to plantlet development called ‘somatic embryogenesis, thus increasing conversion rates and reducing production costs. On the other hand, WCR will promote and support the diffusion of commercial in-vitro technology to new coffee producing countries. In this way, as new varieties are discovered in other countries through the WCR MLVT program, a functional system to multiply and diffuse the new varieties will be in place to insure that the varieties get into the hand of the producers. In addition, WCR research in this area will speed in production time and decrease production costs making the new technology more efficient and attractive for private investors.
For the longer term, basic research on male sterility merits attention. Male sterility is a simple genetic trait that exists in most plant species that renders the plant male sterile allowing it to be pollinated by other male fertile genotypes. The development of hybrids in most crops species have used this trait to produce mass volumes of Hybrid seed by rendering one parent male sterile and the other male fertile. In coffee, this technique has yet to be perfected. WCR will fund some basic research to advance efforts on the identification and use of male sterility for the rapid production of hybrid seed in coffee since this technique has clear advantages for hybrid seed production. However, it also has some drawbacks and mainly the need for introducing the Male Sterile trait into newly created lines that in case of perennial crops such as coffee might take 10 to 15 years. The Male sterile plants have also to be multiplied and, for coffee, one will have to use in vitro technologies. These two approaches are therefore not contradictory but complementary and according to the variety, the producing country, the respective evolution of the technologies one could select one or the other.
This project will stimulate the creation of a seed industry for coffee which has huge sector transformation potential as can be seen in most other crop species. The project will be implemented in targeted countries with necessary capacity and then extended to all producing countries. WCR budget constraints will decide which parts of this project will be executed in the first five year phase.
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