The future of genetic diversity
In 2016, WCR and the Global Crop Diversity Trust spearheaded the development of the Global Conservation Strategy for Coffee Genetic Resources, providing a roadmap for the secure preservation of wild coffee species and varieties. Ensuring that these plants are conserved is essential to the sustainability of coffee and the livelihoods of farmers who depend on it. The Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust) is an international organization working to safeguard crop diversity across the globe.
This weekend, Crop Trust – together with Sintercafe, CATIE and WCR -- launched a fundraising effort to raise the $25 million USD required to implement the strategy and secure stable funding for long-term conservation of four "origin collections" through the Crop Trust Endowment Fund.
Coffee—unlike most plants—can’t be conserved by storing its seeds in a vault. It must be conserved as living plants in “banks” of genetic material called “field genebanks.” The Global Conservation Strategy for Coffee Genetic Resources, which was officially published in 2017, surveyed the world’s most important coffee genebanks, and found that they severely lack funding and that the future of coffee’s genetic resources is threatened. The strategy recognized the passion, dedication, and commitment of the institutes and staff currently involved in coffee conservation, but found that all collections face huge challenges, from aging trees to aging staff, from deforestation to illegal encroachment, from lack of funds and lack of use. The Crop Trust and WCR estimate it will cost about USD 1 million a year to support the most important collections. A global endowment of USD 25 million, paying out 4% per year, would provide that ongoing funding forever, without the need to scrape together funding year to year.
The Global Conservation Strategy for Coffee Genetic Resources lays out a plan to build a global system prioritizing four “origin collections” that each contain unique wild and cultivated coffee genetic resources. These four collections are the Choche Field Genebank (Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute), Fofifa Kianjavato Coffee Research Station (Madagascar), Centre National de la Recherche Agronomique Coffee Genebank (Cote d’Ivoire), and CATIE (Costa Rica). Providing adequate support to these collections would mean safeguarding the most diverse and unique coffee species and varieties so that they can be used by coffee breeders today and—most importantly—in the future.
“While considerable progress has been made in assembling and conserving coffee collections over the past four decades,” says Marie Haga, executive director of the Crop Trust, “the foundation of the multi-billion-dollar coffee business is in jeopardy. We need to find a long-term solution to ensure that the diversity that underpins it, and the associated data, are safe and available.”
Safeguarding these collections is essential to the work of World Coffee Research and anyone working to adapt coffee trees to climate change, to fight disease and pests, to discover new quality traits, and improve coffee production. “Coffee has no future if we don't protect its genetic diversity,” explains Tim Schilling, CEO of World Coffee Research. “This is why we support the Crop Trust’s plan to seek funding to build a global system to revitalize and safeguard the world's most important coffee collections. The work could not be more urgent, or more directly relevant to the work of World Coffee Research.”