In order to make the kind of productivity and quality gains needed to sustain and grow the Arabica supply chain proposed within this strategic plan, there must be ample genetic diversity.
Unfortunately, in the cultivated Arabica species, the genetic base is severely constricted. In fact, it has recently been estimated that the total genetic diversity among all current varieties of Arabica coffee only represents 10% of the specie’s total genetic variability (Ethiopian PhD dissertation). This indicates that there are huge reserves of genetic diversity in Arabica germplasm collections and in the wild that can now be tapped for needed productivity, resistance, and quality traits to alleviate current and future constraints to supply and quality. The goal of the WCR Germplasm project is to expand and diversify the Arabica genetic base for rapid productivity and quality gains while preserving the gene banks into the future.
In order to do so, the WCR will set up three subprograms for collecting, screening and cataloging the Arabica germplasm base.
- Collecting: WCR will work with Ethiopian and South Sudanese governments to collaboratively collect wild germplasm. The genetic material will remain the intellectual property of the respective country according to the International Convention on Biodiversity.
- Preserving: Existing and collected germplasm would be secured by creating a “frozen gene bank” by cryopreservation of seed or somatic embryos from each accession. As such, the coffee industry would be effectively preserving and conserving coffee biodiversity. This program will preserve coffee’s biodiversity and provide long term insurance for the entire coffee supply chain.
- Screening: First, through the MLVT, the WCR will coordinate the screening and cataloging of current Arabica varieties as mentioned above. Second, the WCR will establish agreements to work with current germplasm curators to collaboratively screen and catalog all accessions.
- Cataloging: WCR will create and coordinate a worldwide database for Arabica germplasm. This catalog will serve the producers and the industry for an indefinite period of time.
- Diffusion of ‘core collections’ for developing pre-breeding populations in select target countries. Core collections that possess the greatest level of allelic diversity without preserving each and every individual, but possibly redundant, accession.
Genotypes, genes, markers, and knowledge identified from this program can be used in current and future breeding programs, directly and through the WCR pre-breeding pool program, to alleviate today’s known constraints to productivity and quality and tomorrow’s unknown constraints. This program will preserve coffee’s biodiversity and provide long term insurance for the entire coffee supply chain. In all these efforts, the genetic material will remain the intellectual property of the respective country.