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Conserving Coffee, Forever

April 15, 2016

A new partnership to develop a global coffee conservation strategy

15 April 2016 (WASHINGTON, DC) and Atlanta, GA — The Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust) and World Coffee Research (WCR) today announced, at the Crop Trust’s Pledging Conference and the Specialty Coffee Association of America Expo, a partnership to develop a global coffee conservation strategy for the world’s coffee diversity.

Coffee is consumed by more than a third of the world’s population. It has been a source of growth for many developing countries, providing over USD $19 billion annually in export earnings for coffee producing nations in 2012/2013. Global coffee production has grown steadily since the 1960s, topping 145 million bags in 2012/2013. The value of the total world market for coffee is estimated at over $173 billion by the International Coffee Organization.

Sarada Krisnan at crop trust pleding conference

Dr. Sarada Krishnan will be leading the project on behalf of WCR and Crop Trust. She announced the project to a gathering of more than 50 nations in Washington, D.C. on April 15, 2016.

"Coffee plays a key role in the livelihoods of an estimated 125 million people," says Dr. Sarada Krishnan, Director of Horticulture & Center for Global Initiatives at the Denver Botanic Gardens. "But coffee genetic resources are being lost at a rapid pace. Most of the main genebanks for coffee are in disrepair and its natural habitat is rapidly disappearing, leading to genetic erosion. Before it is too late, we need to address the preservation of these genetic resources through multi-national collaboration. The global coffee conservation strategy will be key in addressing these issues and providing a roadmap for the future sustainability of the crop and the livelihoods dependent on it."

The project will be led by Krishnan, an expert on wild coffee. Over the next few months, Dr. Krishnan will travel to the world’s major coffee genebanks to survey their conditions. The strategy will be compiled by fall 2016, and presented to the International Coffee Organization in October.

Commercial coffee is derived from two main coffee species: Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. Varieties used in the field today, especially those of C. arabica, have a very narrow genetic base. The lack of genetic diversity within the crop has left production vulnerable to diseases including Coffee Berry Borer, Coffee Berry Disease, Coffee Leaf Rust, and Fusarium Wilt. All of these diseases affect the production and quality of the coffee beans.

According to the International Coffee Organization, an epidemic of coffee leaf rust in 2012-2015 resulted in losses of roughly 18.2 million bags of coffee in Central America alone, costing USD 2.5 billion. The low harvests resulted in the loss of more than 1.7 million jobs.

The long-term success of coffee cultivation relies on the availability of genetic diversity. Without access to genetic variability, the coffee industry, both small farms and big farms alike, risks finding itself unable to cope with the challenges of climate change, new pests and diseases and ever-rising demand.

Your morning coffee depends on the genetic diversity needed to adapt the coffee plant to changing environments. Without genetic diversity, coffee will not be able to withstand the numerous stresses that accompany climate change and that are happening right now. Every day that we don’t have a strategy in place for protecting that diversity is a day we are losing vital resources. - Dr. Tim Schilling, CEO, World Coffee Research

The global crop conservation strategy for coffee is an opportunity to review the history of the world’s coffee collections—stored in multiple field genebanks and in native forests around the world—and assess the challenges that coffee and its genetic resources face.

It is essential that a strategy not only review the status, accessibility, and vulnerability of the world’s coffee collections, but also address the priority actions needed to conserve the collections more effectively in the future,” said Ms. Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust. “The global strategy should encourage the industry and interested parties across the globe to participate in ensuring that coffee is conserved for use in the long term.

The Global Conservation Strategy for Coffee will identify high priority actions that need to be taken and ensure commitment by the coffee community to invest in these actions, thereby securing the long-term conservation of globally available coffee through the Crop Trust’s Crop Diversity Endowment Fund.

Information on the Global Crop Diversity Trust

The Crop Trust is an international organization working to safeguard crop diversity, forever. The Crop Trust is an essential funding element of the United Nation’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), an agreement that includes 135 countries. In addition, the Crop Trust has:

  • Spearheaded the largest biological rescue operation of its kind of nearly 80,000 crop varieties, through collaboration with more than 100 institutions in more than 80 countries; and

  • Together with the Government of Norway and NordGen, manages and funds the ongoing work of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a safe and secure back-up facility in the permafrost that conserves 860,000 samples of crops from all over the world.

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Information on World Coffee Research (WCR)

World Coffee Research (WCR) is a 501 (c)(5) nonprofit collaborative research and development program of the global coffee industry to grow, protect, and enhance supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the families who produce it.  The program is funded and driven by the global coffee industry, guided by producers, and executed by coffee scientists around the world.

For more information about World Coffee Research and its programs, please visit:

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