Where we’ve been, where we’re going
September 28, 2021—As we head into the harvest season in Central America in the weeks ahead, and with International Coffee Day just days away, I thought it was a great time to take a moment to reflect on what we’ve accomplished at WCR in the past couple years and what we have in store for the months and years ahead.
Harvest time is always exciting because all the work of the field season is finally paying off. It’s the moment when we can be thankful for the hard work we’ve put in, all those months of planning, weeding, pruning, and caring for our programs. Whether it's a coffee farm or a research organization—the process is much the same. You use the best evidence and data to plan, you weed and prune along the way, and you make decisions throughout the production season to keep progress moving forward while adjusting your activities in response to the environment--always with a focus on optimizing your yields not just for this year but also for the years ahead. At WCR, we’ve been approaching the stewardship of our program portfolio in much the same way as a farmer makes strategic choices on the farm.
As many of you have heard by now, we recently closed our Global Coffee Monitoring Program. This change in our trial portfolio came as part of a strategic shift which we started last year. While developing our new five-year strategy in 2020, our Board commissioned an external peer review of our programs. We learned a great deal about what has worked well in our portfolio, what needed to be pruned, what needed to be stumped, and what required renovation. In addition to this deep dive into program performance, we also took a step back to look at the timelines for returns to the portfolio and how we can deliver optimal results given our level of investment over the short, medium and long term. The result is a portfolio focused on driving step-change in global coffee agriculture with the launch of a new global breeding network, deepened investment in nurseries, targeted strategic trial programs and global leadership activities to elevate science and technology issues in coffee agriculture that require our community’s attention beyond WCR’s direct involvement.
The International Multi-location Variety Trial (IMLVT) continues its 6th year and has delivered new understanding on varieties’ rust resistance, yield and cupping quality across world regions. As each trial yields three years of harvest data, the sites will be retired, and in some cases the sites will be cleared to make way for pre-commercial testing of varieties that have caught the attention of growers! In these cases, WCR is brokering arrangements between national coffee institutes to facilitate access rights to new varieties for next stage pre-commercial trials—part of the stepwise process for bringing new varieties to farmers.
2022: Launching a Global Breeding Network
The IMLVT has also set the stage for deeper collaboration among national coffee institutes and we are launching the global breeding network with partners in 2022. This network will build on their collaboration with WCR to develop climate-resilient varieties with new sources of coffee leaf rust resistance, stable and higher yields, and higher cupping quality.
The breeding network is a particularly critical effort for the coffee community. Varieties were among the most important technologies deployed in response to the Central America rust epidemic over the past decade—yet those innovations resulted from a major breeding effort in 1967! It’s time for a fresh wave of innovation in variety development at a global level to prepare farmers for the climate challenges ahead.
In our trial portfolio, we’ll see yield results from select on-farm trials that will be completed in 2022 as well as new hybrid evaluation trials. While the Global Coffee Monitoring Program has been closed, there are on-farm trial sites coming to maturity in 2022, so we’ll be sharing the variety performance results from Nicaragua and the Democratic Republic of Congo with the community.
From our hybrid program, the cuppings that WCR member companies have undertaken helped us identify five F1 hybrids to advance to the next stage of pre-commercial trialling. These five were selected after whittling down the population from 46 hybrids to 15 based on productivity in the field, to these five based on cup quality. In a head-to-head comparison of our hybrids with the regional champion, Centroamericano (H1), we’ll see if they can deliver higher field performance and cupping scores compared to Centroamericano. This will give farmers and the trade information about new options in the years ahead.
Our nursery portfolio continues to build out and utilize low-cost genetic tools to test for genetic purity of varieties across Central America through our partnership with the MOCCA project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and led by Technoserve. We are also embarking on a robusta and arabica nursery support effort in Uganda in close collaboration with the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, as we bridge our nursery program from Central America to East Africa. There are a number of other activities we’ll be building out over the next year as we deepen investment in this space.
Finally, our work in Global Leadership will be yielding its first harvest this Autumn!
- After a year of working closely with Enveritas, London School of Economics Professor Rocco Macchiovello, and University of Naples economist Davide del Prete, on October 20, 2021, we will host a webinar with these experts on the dynamics of price and yield. This will help shape understanding of where and how yield improvements can benefit farmers without depressing global prices.
- In mid-November, we’ll release a white paper commissioned from World Food Prize Laureate, Dr Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, on carbon sequestration in coffee farming systems. This is an issue many WCR member companies are wrestling with as GHG emissions reductions targets are front of mind—and this webinar will be an opportunity to get your questions answered by a global authority.
While WCR focuses our program portfolio on modernizing variety improvement systems in focus countries—with an emphasis on breeding and nurseries—we realize there are many important issues beyond what we can do directly. Our member companies seek a trusted source of information on complex scientific issues facing coffee agriculture. We’d like to bring you the best brains to answer your questions, break down the complex into manageable pieces to enhance our collective understanding, and build a foundation for action. Science and technology is a tool—and at WCR we want to orient it to our shared challenges and create opportunities for our industry.
As always, WCR welcomes comments, feedback, and questions as we implement our strategy. I remain attentive to the current and future needs of our member community and seek to deliver an accountable, collaborative program that drives the greatest value for your investment and is nimble and responsive to the world around us!
With deepest regards,
Dr. Jennifer “Vern” Long, CEO
World Coffee Research