First seeds from the Innovea Global Coffee Breeding Network now germinating around the world
Milestone marks the initiation of the first global, collaborative breeding program in over 50 years
At research stations worldwide, a very special crop of coffee seeds will soon begin to poke their small leaves above the soil and sprout into seedlings. The establishment of these tiny plants—over 5,000 of them, each genetically unique from one another—is the first step in a global, collaborative effort to transform the future of coffee.
These germinating seeds represent the first distribution of improved genetic material from the Innovea Global Coffee Breeding Network, a network of 9 collaborating countries working together to transform breeding and accelerate the pace of genetic improvement in coffee. The seeds come from crosses made by WCR breeders in 2022 between 16 parent varieties.
Over the past few months, the seeds were harvested, processed, and packaged. They have now been shipped to 7 out of 9 national network partners in Hawaii, United States (USDA), Costa Rica (ICAFE), Peru (INIA), Mexico (Chapingo Autonomous University), Rwanda (RAB), Uganda (NaCORI), and Kenya (KALRO). National partners in Indonesia (ICCRI) and India (CCRI) will receive seed next season.
"Every one of these precious seeds will now be germinated, labeled, and cared for individually until the seedlings are ready for transplanting into the field. It’s an exciting new phase for Innovea and we look forward to what’s to come."
Partner countries will receive an average of approximately 800-900 seeds each, with the goal of ultimately ending up with a total of 300 mature trees planted in Innovea research plots (extra seeds are included to cover any potential losses during the germination and nursery stages). The remaining portion of the seeds have been distributed to WCR breeding factory locations at CATIE in Costa Rica and Finca Flor Amarilla in El Salvador.
This event marks an important milestone in the launch of the Innovea network, as World Coffee Research (WCR) and its international partners prepare to undertake the largest breeding project to take place in over 50 years. The network gives participating partners unrestricted access to new genetic materials, training in modern breeding approaches, and shared tools while also connecting researchers across geographies to foster collaboration and achieve optimal results.
The countries that have received seed thus far are initiating germination and genotyping (i.e. the genetic testing of each individual plant, a step required to ensure that each tree was the product of a successful cross, which allows WCR to confirm the pedigree of each individual tree before planting) in 2023 and 2024. During this time, WCR will work with partners to make final selections of which trees will be planted, and from there, begin collecting global performance data on the thousands of individual trees. Seedlings at WCR breeding factory locations have already been germinated and genotyped, and those at the Finca Flor Amarilla site are scheduled to be planted in the field by early September.
Field performance data and genotypic data from across the global network will be combined to make new cycles of crosses in six years (and every 3 years after that) using the network’s genomic selection strategy. This strategy is designed to ensure that each new set of crosses is better than the one before, providing participating countries with a continual supply of improved breeding materials to ensure the success of coffee agriculture for today and for future generations.
“We are so pleased that seed is now in the hands of so many of our partners who are excited to start the hands-on work of Innovea,” said WCR Director of Research & Development, Dr. Tania Humphrey, “Our partners have worked wonderfully together with the WCR team to navigate the many regulatory and logistical challenges of moving coffee seeds around the world. Every one of these precious seeds will now be germinated, labeled, and cared for individually until the seedlings are ready for transplanting into the field. It’s an exciting new phase for Innovea and we look forward to what’s to come.”
Below, you can view a few photos taken by WCR team members Nick Muir (Breeding Manager, Latin America), Julio Alvarado (Research Technician), and Dr. Jorge Berny (Research Scientist, Breeding and Genomics) during the harvesting, processing, packing, germinating, genotyping, and planting of the first round of Innovea seed at Finca Flor Amarilla in El Salvador.