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Breeding for climate change

April 10, 2017

A new breeding initiative focuses on high-performing varieties adapted for agroforestry

The creation of new coffee varieties better adapted to climate change is critical for the future of coffee. In 2017, WCR will join a major effort funded by the EU to address the challenges posed by climate change through coffee breeding. One of the key strategies identified for climate resilience in coffee is agroforestry—growing coffee under shade. A consortium of research institutions will work to understand how and why different varieties are more climate-resilient and appropriate for smallholder farmers working in agroforestry systems. The project will demonstrate how breeding programs can benefit both smallholder farmers by increasing their incomes and resilience, and the coffee industry by providing higher amounts of high quality coffees. Combining extensive phenotyping with advanced DNA analysis on a scale that has not previously been undertaken with perennial tree crops, BREEDCAFS (Breeding Coffee for AgroForestry Systems) will lead to an unprecedented understanding of coffee physiology.

"This four-year project involves adapting varietal improvement strategies to more sustainable crop practices in agroforestry. These allow to shade the coffee tree, but also to reduce the use of certain inputs, such as fertilizers, " explains Benoît Bertrand, CIRAD, coordinator of Breedcafs. Bertrand is WCR's chief coffee breeder.

New hybrid varieties 

The $6 million project is being financed by the European H2020 program. It brings together more than twenty partners including, European and American universities, the private sector, and coffee institutes in Cameroon, Nicaragua, and Vietnam.

"New hybrid varieties, produced by CIRAD with its partners (Promecafe-CATIE-ECOM and WCR), will be tested under several scenarios of temperature rise, CO2 enrichment and under different water and light regimes in Montpellier, Lisbon and Nicaragua, Cameroon and Vietnam," says Benoît Bertrand (CIRAD, WCR). "The idea is to understand the molecular mechanisms of adaptation to agroforestry and to identify candidate genes for the selection of highly productive and adapted varieties for agroforestry. "

Agroforestry clusters for 100% traceable coffee

These varieties will be made available to agroforestry clusters linking roasters and coffee producers directly. The objective will be to supply 100% traceable, high quality coffee from carbon neutral agroforestry production, paid to producers at the right price. Two clusters will be tested over four years in Vietnam and Cameroon, based on a model farm in Nicargua. The Nicaraguan cluster, operated by NicaFrance and funded by Moringa, covers 30 medium and 50 small producers.

Rethinking global governance in the area of ​​varietal improvement of coffee

Currently, out of 50 coffee producing countries, only Brazil, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia and Tanzania are able to distribute quality varieties to their coffee producers. But varieties in these countries have been selected for intensive, usually full-sun production systems.

"Farmers who produce coffee in agroforestry (more than 60% of the world's production area of ​​Arabica coffee) are mostly small farmers who do not have access to quality plant material adapted to the specific constraints of growing coffee in forests," says Benoît Bertrand. "In view of this, we wish to rethink global governance of variety improvement in coffee—in collaboration with World Coffee Research."  The aim is to put in place mechanisms to promote, disseminate and share new varieties adapted to agroforestry.

With a budget of 4.5 million euros, the Breedcafs project will be completed by 2021. Expected results include: new tools for breeders to facilitate varietal screening in agroforestry, new varietal improvement programs and Agroforestry clusters involving farmers and roasters, new varieties evaluated for their performance and quality, adapted to the growing conditions in agroforestry and climate change, ...

Partners of the Breedcafs project:

  • Industries: Illy Caffe Italy, Eurofins, Arvid Nordquist.

  • Academic world: UCPH, Galway Univ., IRD, CIRAD, Lisboa Univ., Montpellier Univ., Nova ID FCT, Max Planck, Forschungszentrum Julich GMBH Germany, NOMAFSI, AGI, ASU.

  • Professional organizations and NGOs: World Coffee Research, ICRAF, NOMAFSI, Nicafrance Foundation and SNV.

Read the original announcement in French.

  • Authors: N/A